January 1954

Interview with John McClellan (aka John T. Fitch) and Paul Desmond on station WHDH; Parker is booked at the Hi-Hat Club for a week (January 18-24), during which time several performances are broadcast on station WCOP. The interview appears on Philology Volume 8 (W 80).

DESMOND: That music, because there's many good people playing in that record, but the style of the alto is so different from anything else that's on the record, or that went before. Did you realize at that time the effect you were going to have on jazz -- that you were going to change the entire scene in the next ten years?

PARKER: Well, let's put it like this, no. I had no idea that it was that much different.

McCLELLAN: I'd like to stick in a question, if I may. I'd like to know why there was this violent change, really. After all, up until this time the way to play the alto sax was the way that Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter played alto, and this seems to be an entirely different conception, not only of how to play that particular horn, but of music in general.

DESMOND: Yeah, how to play any horn.

PARKER: I don't think there's any answer to...

DESMOND: ...it's like the way you eat.

PARKER: That's what I said when I first started talking, that's my first conception, man, that's the way I thought it should go, and I still do. I mean, music can stand much improvement. Most likely, in another 25, maybe 50 years, some youngster will come along and take this style and really do something with it, you know, but I mean, ever since I've ever heard music I've always thought it should be very clean, very precise... as clean as possible, anyway... you know, and more or less to the people, you know, something they could understand, something that was beautiful, you know... there's definitely stories and stories and stories that can be told in the musical idiom, you know -- you wouldn't say idiom, but it's so hard to describe music other than the basic way to describe it -- music is basically melody, harmony and rhythm, but, I mean, people can do much more with music than that. It can be very descriptive in all kinds of ways, you know, all walks of life. Don't you agree, Paul?

DESMOND: Yeah, and you always do have a story to tell -- it's one of the most impressive things about everything I've ever heard of yours.

PARKER: That's more or less the object, that's what I thought it should be.

DESMOND: Uh-huh. Another thing that's a major factor in your playing, is this fantastic technique, that nobody's quite equalled. I've always wondered about that, too -- whether there was, whether that came behind practicing or whether that was just from playing, whether that evolved gradually.

PARKER: Well, you make it so hard for me to answer you, you know, because I can't see where there's anything fantastic about it all. I put quite a bit of study into the horn, that's true. In fact, the neighbours threatened to ask my mother to move once. We were living out West. She said I was driving them crazy with the horn. I used to put in at least 11 to 15 hours a day.

DESMOND: Yes, that's what I wondered.

PARKER: That's true, yes. I did that for over a period of 3 or 4 years.

DESMOND: Because that's the answer.

PARKER: That's the facts, anyway.

DESMOND: I heard a record of yours a couple of months ago that somehow I've missed up to date, and I heard a little 2 bar quote from the Close book that was like an echo from home... [Desmond hums the passage.]

PARKER: Yeah, yeah -- well, that was all done with books, you know, naturally it wasn't done with mirrors this time, it was done with books.

DESMOND: Well, that's very reassuring to hear, because somehow I got the idea that you were just sort of born with that technique, and you never had to worry too much about it, about keeping it working.

McCLELLAN: You know, I'm very glad that he's bringing up this point, because I think that a lot of young musicians tend to think that...

DESMOND: Yeah, they do. They just go out...

McCLELLAN: It isn 't necessary to do this.

DESMOND: And make those sessions and live the life, but they don't put in those 11 hours a day with any of the books.

PARKER: Oh, definitely, study is absolutely necessary, in all forms. It's just like any talent that's born within somebody, it's like a good pair of shoes when you put a shine on it, you know, like schooling just brings out the polish, you know, of any talent, it happens anywhere in the world. Einstein had schooling, but he has a definite genius, you know, within himself, schooling is one of the most wonderful things there's ever been.

McCLELLAN: I'm glad to hear you say this.

PARKER: That's absolutely right.

DESMOND: Yeah.

PARKER: Well...

DESMOND: What other record?

PARKER: Which one should we take this time?

McCLELLAN: I want to skip a little while. We... Charlie, picked out "Night and Day," that's one of his records. Is this with a band or with strings?

PARKER: No, this is with the live band... I think there's about 19 pieces on this.

McCLELLAN: Why don't we listen to it, then and talk about it.

[McCLELLAN plays "Night and Day."]

DESMOND: Charlie, this brings us kind of up to when you and Diz started joining forces -- the next record we have coming up. When did you first meet Dizzy Gillespie?

PARKER: Well, the first time, our official meeting I might say, was on the bandstand of the Savoy Ballroom in New York City in 1939. McShann's band first came to New York... I'd been in New York previously, but I went back West and rejoined the band and came back to New York with it. Dizzy came by one night -- I think at the time he was working with Cab Calloway's band -- and he sat in on the band and I was quite fascinated by the fellow, and we became very good friends and until this day we are, you know. And that was the first time I ever had the pleasure to meet Dizzy Gillespie.

DESMOND: Was he playing the same way then, before he played with you?

PARKER: I don't remember precisely. I just know he was playing, what you might call, in the vernacular of the streets, a beaucoup of horn, you know?

DESMOND: Beaucoup?

PARKER: Yeah.

DESMOND: Okay.

PARKER: You know, just like all of the horns packed up in one, you know.

DESMOND: Right.

PARKER: And we used to go around different places and jam together, and we had quite a bit of fun in those days, and shortly after the McShann band went out West again, I went out with them and I came back to New York again... I found Dizzy again, in the old Hines organization in 1941, and I joined the band with him. I was in New York... I, we, both stayed on the band about a year. It was Earl Hines, and Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Gail Brockman, Thomas Crump, Shadow Wilson... quite a few names that you'd recognize in the music world today, you know, were in that band.

DESMOND: That's quite a collection.

PARKER: And then that band broke up in '41. In '42 Dizzy was in New York and formed his own new combination in the Three Deuces, in New York City, and I joined his band there, and that's when these records you're about to play now... we made these in '42 in New York.

DESMOND: Yeah, I guess the first time I heard that group was, you came out to Billy Berg's?

PARKER: Oh, yes, but that was '45, that was later -- we'll get to that.

DESMOND: I'm just illustrating how far I was behind all this.

PARKER: Oh, don't be that way, modesty will get you nowhere.

DESMOND: I'm hip.

McCLELLAN: So, shall we spin this 1942 one, "Groovin' High"?

DESMOND: Yes.

McCLELLAN: Okay. This is Dizzy and Charlie...

[McCLELLAN plays "Groovin' High."]

McCLELLAN: I guess this is Slam Stewart and Remo Palmieri... I guess I don't know who it is on piano.

PARKER: Yes, I think that was Clyde Hart.

McCLELLAN: Yes, I think so.

PARKER: And Big Sid Catlett, deceased now.

DESMOND: You said at that time, New York was jumping in '42.

PARKER: Yeah, New York was, well, those were what you might call the good old days, you know, Paul -- gay youth.

DESMOND: Tell me about it.

PARKER: Well, descriptively, just like I was going to say, gay youth, lack of funds...

DESMOND: Listen at grandfather Parker talking here.

PARKER: There was nothing to do but play, you know, and we had a lot of fun trying to play, you know. I did plenty of jam sessions -- meant much late hours, plenty good food, nice clean living, you know, but basically speaking, much poverty.

DESMOND: That's always good, too... no worries.

PARKER: It had it's place, definitely, in life.

DESMOND: Would you like that sort of situation to have continued indefinitely?

PARKER: Well, whether I liked it or not, it really did, Paul... I'm glad it finally blew over of a sort -- and I do mean of a sort.

DESMOND: Yes.

PARKER: Yeah, I enjoy this a little, much more, in fact, having the pleasure to work with the same guys of the sort that I've met. and I've met other young fellows, you know, that come along and I enjoy working with them when I have the pleasure to. If I might say, you, yourself Paul.

DESMOND: Oh, thanks.

PARKER: Sure, I've had lots of fun working with you, man... that's a pleasure in a million. And David, Dave Brubeck... David Brubeck, lots of other fellows have come along, you know, since that era, that particular era. It makes you feel that everything you did wasn't for nought, you know, that you really tried to prove something, and...

DESMOND: Well, man, you really did prove it. I think you did more than anybody in the last 10 years to leave a decisive mark on the history of jazz.

PARKER: Well, not yet, Paul, but I intended to. I'd like to study some more, I'm not quite through yet, I'm not quite -- I don't consider myself too old to learn.

DESMOND: No, I know many people are watching you at the moment, with the greatest of interest, to see what you're going to come up with next, in the next few years -- myself among the front row of them. And what have you got in mind? What are you going to be doing?

PARKER: Well, seriously speaking, I mean, I'm going to try to go to Europe to study. I had the pleasure to meet one Edgar Varese in New York City. He's a classical composer from Europe... he's a Frenchman, very nice fellow, and he wants to teach me. In fact, he wants to write for me, because he thinks I'm more for, more or less on a serious basis, you know -- and if he takes me on, I mean, when he finishes with me, I might have a chance to go to the Academie Musicale in Paris itself, and study, you know. My prime interest still is learning to play music, you know.

McCLELLAN: Would you study playing or composition, or everything?

PARKER: I would study both -- never want to lose my horn.

DESMOND: Yeah, and you never should. That would be a catastrophe.

PARKER: I don't want to do that. That wouldn't work.

McCLELLAN: Well, we're kind of getting ahead of the record sequence here, but it's been most fascinating. Do you want to say something about Miles Davis?

PARKER: Yeah, well I'll tell you how I met Miles. In 1944, Billy Eckstine formed his own organization -- Dizzy was on that band also, Lucky Thompson, there was Art Blakey, Tommy Potter, a lot of other fellows, and last and least, yours truly.

DESMOND: Modesty will get you nowhere, Charlie.

PARKER: I had the pleasure to meet Miles, for the first time, in St. Louis, when he was a youngster. He was still going to school. Later on he came to New York. He finished Juilliard, Miles did, he graduated from Juilliard and, at the time, I was just beginning to get my band together, you know, five pieces here, five pieces there. So I formed a band and took it into the Three Deuces for maybe seven to eight weeks, and at the time, Dizzy -- after the next time the organization broke up -- Dizzy was about to form his own band. There was so many things taking place then, I mean, it's hard to describe it, because it happened in a matter of months. Nevertheless, I went to California in 1945 with Dizzy, after I broke up my band, the first band I had, then I came again back to New York in '47, the early part of '47, and that's when I decided to have a band of my own permanently, and Miles was in my original band. I had Miles, I had Max, I had Tommy Potter and Al Haig in my band. Another band I had, I had Stan Levey, had Curley Russell, I had Miles and George Wallington. But I think you have a record out there, one of the records that we made with Max and Miles, I think, and yours truly, Tommy and Duke Jordan. What is it? I think it's "Perhaps." Is it not so? Well, this came along in the years of say '47... '46, '47. These particular sides were made in New York City, WOR 1440 Broadway, and this is the beginning of my career as a bandleader.

McCLELLAN: Okay. Well, let's listen to "Perhaps."

[McCLELLAN plays "Perhaps."]

 

Interviews courtesy of Miles Ahead: Charlie Parker Bibliography