Charlie Parker

Live in Chicago

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Chicago's Pershing Hotel on East 64th Street is perhaps most famous among jazz lovers for Ahmad Jamal's carefully documented residence at the Pershing Lounge in January 1958. Far less well known than Jamal's "Poinciana" at the Pershing, and sure to please those who enjoy obscure location footage, is more than 75 minutes' worth of early modern jazz captured during Charlie Parker's appearance inside the Pershing's ballroom on October 10, 1950 and issued on compact disc in 2001 by the ever-resourceful Ember label. Sound quality is murky at times, with Bird cutting through the veils like swordplay. Two of Chicago's three Freeman brothers participated in this engagement; drummer Bruz Freeman, who assembled the group to back Bird, and electrically amplified guitarist George Freeman, who really steps out as a soloist during the third set. On "Keen and Peachy," the guitarist sounds literally 40 years ahead of his time. Although posterity was denied the inestimable pleasure of hearing what Von Freeman would have come up with in this inspiring company, tenor saxophonist Claude McLin emulated the sound of Lester Young so artfully that for years people thought that the tenor heard on these tapes was Prez's number one disciple, Wardell Gray. Because the rhythm section was under-recorded, pianist Chris Anderson and bassist Leroy Jackson are muffled down to an unfortunate degree. Occasionally the tape recorder was stopped and restarted, resulting in abrupt edits and a version of "Star Dust" that is only 52 seconds in duration. Additionally, someone perpetrates Billy Eckstine-styled crooning all over "Body and Soul," during which Bird sounds characteristically brilliant. It's fortunate that we have so much of the evening's entertainment at hand so as to be able to savor the evolution of the gig as the night progressed. A nine-minute jam on Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" is particularly rewarding and might be worth the cost of admission all by itself. These cobbled together recordings, privately captured on reused open reel tapes rolling at three and three quarters of an inch per second, were given by Bird to someone at the Savoy record company and subsequently released to the public in heavily edited excerpts over the years. Ember's monumental edition (which includes a mysterious extra version of "Pennies from Heaven" involving an unidentified trombonist and almost certainly drawn from a different gig) marks the first time this wild live bop session has been made available in its entirety.

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