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Rétrospective 1940-1953

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Album Review

In 2005, Saga Jazz released a 62-track anthology of Charlie Parker recordings under the title Retrospective 1940-1953. It's a good strong shot of vintage bop, but like so many compilations it suffers slightly from chronologic scrambling. That wouldn't even be worth mentioning were it not for the inclusion of a handful of Bird's early pre-bop recordings. The oldest material, which happens to be the earliest known recording of Charlie Parker, shows up on track 24; "Honeysuckle Rose/Body & Soul" was recorded in Kansas City, KS on May 11, 1940. Placing this chestnut more than one-third of the way into an almost chronological collection is incongruous and will not assist anyone who is trying to savor the man's artistic development over a stated span of thirteen years. That, after all, is what chronologies (and historic jazz collections) are for. The next-to-oldest recordings appear closer to where one would expect them to be — at the very beginning of the collection. "Swingmatism" and the "Hootie Blues" were recorded for the Decca label in Dallas, TX on April 30, 1941 by Jay McShann & His Orchestra. Something like a chronological progression does manage to materialize, more or less, and when Bird isn't leading his own groups he is heard sitting in with bands led by Red Norvo, Slim Gaillard, and Dizzy Gillespie. While it's very nice to know that these great recordings continue to circulate, it's a damned shame they didn't place the titles in chronological sequence, for Charlie Parker's progress occurred swiftly and very dramatically and there's nothing quite like hearing him evolve, session by session and note by note.


Born: 29 August 1920 in Kansas City, KS

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s

One of a handful of musicians who can be said to have permanently changed jazz, Charlie Parker was arguably the greatest saxophonist of all time. He could play remarkably fast lines that, if slowed down to half speed, would reveal that every note made sense. "Bird," along with his contemporaries Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, is considered a founder of bebop; in reality he was an intuitive player who simply was expressing himself. Rather than basing his improvisations closely on the melody as was...
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