Friday, March 12, 2010

Charles Parker and Boston, a Road Trip.

Fifty five years ago this month saw the end of Charles Parker on the 12th. He'd be nearly 90 if he yet lived. I recently got the Uptown CD 'Charlie Parker Boston 1952'. It also has some tracks from 1954 but both dates were at a South End Club called the Hi-Hat that was a few doors away from where Lowell Davidson and John Voigt lived as teens then. I have no clue which building housed the place, maybe it's where a pizza joint is now.

But, poring over the extensive liner note data from Doctor Sunenblick and Bob Blumenthal, I was struck by how Massachusetts seemed to be Bird's home away from home and his visits are almost like some minor echo of the Great Awakening movement that swept the area in the early1800s. Mr. Parker packed places up here. And he played in some odd and seemingly improbable venues. 

A personal favorite was a New Years eve gig in 1947 with Miles and Max Roach on board at the Red Roof Ballroom in Revere on the honky tonk beach. I wonder if my friend Cook's mom Charlotte was there with her sister Barbara who would end up being the voice teacher at New England Conservatory. Charlotte and Barbara lived in Revere at the time and they were among the young of the time who flocked to Bird gigs. (The Velvet Underground also played in some dump at Revere Beach in another time...our version of Coney Island.)

Charlie Parker played all over the place in the Commonwealth. He did a 5 city road trip with Serge Chaloff down old Route 9 hitting Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke and Northampton. He ended up at McCann's in Leominster with a plastic alto, at Fall River, Milford and oddest of all, Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire. And he really was like some bringer of the word here as a whole generation of locals got to work with him. I wonder if Tip O'Neill saw him with Dave McKenna? How about Jack Kennedy and his brothers?

The most interesting gigs of all were in Framingham and were after hours fetes hosted by a genial retired cop named named Eddie Curran. He had a restaurant called Christy's there and became a way station for many when up here. Wardell Gray was there one night. There was always lots of food and drinks on the house.  

And then there was the gig that wasn't. He was scheduled to play at Storyville a few days after his last on March 12th, 55 years ago.

Looking back  on it all it is interesting to think about how much Bird brought to Boston as most of the founding faculties of area music schools such as Berklee were Parker acolytes. His final years were like musical evangelizing and sowing seeds of lore that built the period when it became a listening music in its own right and no longer yoked to rump propulsions of ballroom dancing. 

And Boston probably was a godsend when his cabaret card was revoked in New York in a time before loft and art space gigs, well after rent party gigs. He was welcomed with impressive enthusiasm. Maybe a fun project might be to map the Bird New England Road Trip to the locations in cases where they are known. 

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