Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Charlie Parker, The Boston Radio Interviews


Bird speaks! Posted online recently as an episode from the Birdmaniac Birdflight show on New York's WKCR, the jazz historian and DJ Phil Schaap presented one of the very few surviving Charlie Parker's interviews in good audio quality, accompanied by Mr. Schaap's commentary and a wealth of information about the historic interview.

At the time of the interview, Parker, fresh from a triumphant concert in Toronto's Massey Hall, was engaged at Boston's Hi-Hat Club. On June 13, 1953, after a prior discussion, he showed up at the Boston radio station to be interviewed by John Fitch who was known on air as John McLellan.

During the course of the interview, McLellan tried to encourage, even unsuccessfully provoke Parker to talk more. (Listen to McLellan's biting remark about Dixieland music to which Parker remains indifferent if not defensive.) No matter how much articulation and encouragement is poured into the interview on McLellan's end, Parker, 32 at the time, remains detached if amiable. He seems to be only interested in "good music", having issues with categorizations and ranking fellow artists:

"Oh, I'd like to differ, I beg to differ, in fact. There's always room for musicians, you know. There's no such thing as the middle of the road, it will be one thing or the other -- good music or otherwise, you know. And it doesn't make any difference which idiom it might be in -- swing, bebop, as you might want to call it, or Dixieland -- if it's good it will be heard."
Parker, maintaining his calm and friendly attitude throughout the course of an interview which doesn't always go in right direction, gives insight into his world by some typically short, poetic statements:

"Most people fail to realize that most of the things they hear coming out of a man's horn, ad lib, or else things that are written, original things, they're just experiences, the way he feels -- the beauty of the weather, the nice look of a mountain, or maybe a nice fresh cool breath of air, I mean all those things."
Parker's knowledge of jazz history and his pedagogic precision in emphasizing the dates -- even if they are not exactly correct -- and his reluctance to talk ill of his colleagues and contemporaries are touching.


The audio file which I've embedded here (courtesy of Phil Schaap) starts with an introduction by Mr. Schaap, followed by the playback of the interview, and concluded by Schaap's further elaborations on the importance of oral history in jazz. Then he plays the type once more and after the second playback starts a close analysis of the Bird's phrasings.

There's an transcription of the interview posted here.

The interview starts at 10' 00''






In case you haven't heard the better know and more widely available second interview McLellan made with Parker, you can listen to it below.

This one was conducted a year later, in 1954, and McClellan invited Paul Desmond to the station as co-interviewer. Desmond, after a short while, takes control and conducts the session in solo. One could feel Parker is more at ease here with a fellow musician:

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