Guernsey's Auction

Cast to the Wind

Guernsey's auction was probably the most important event in recent times regarding Charlie Parker memorabilia. Next to Sotheby's auction of the Chan Parker Collection 1994 there has never been an event with such an array of 'Parkerania'.

The press coverage was unprecedented for a jazz musician deceased for nearly fifty years, even though it was sensationalised in typical Parker fashion. Most of the coverage focused on the 'King' saxophone, 'the Holy Grail' of saxophones, lost for the past fifty years, and all the time it had been hidden under a bed! It was all rather ludicrous, as any Parker fan worth their salt knew that Chan had it. It even made an appearance in the film 'The Bird' by Jan Horne in 1990, where Harold Jefta plays it. You can also see the Grafton auctioned in 1994. (So Chan got two of Parker's saxophones in the estate settlement?)

Nothing new there, all we needed to know was how much, and who to. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars to an unnamed telephone bidder. Guesses are that it's gone to Japan. I hoped it had gone to Kansas like the Grafton, or some other publicly-based organisation, where people can see it and wonder at its gifted owner.

Other pieces include Parker's Buddha style incense burner and ashtray. Who knows why Chan kept these simple things and did not auction them with other items of similar or more interest in 1994? Cuff-links, a framed scrap of wallpaper from the New York apartment she shared with Parker, a pocket watch engraved 'CC', (Charlie Chan - a pseudonym Parker used to navigate contractual obligations), an unfinished painting by Parker (under Harvey Cropper's tutelage), of what appeared to be a naked, reclining Chan. All ridiculously simple keepsakes of a time spent with the world's greatest soloist. Obviously, these items must have had a very, very special place in Chan's life. It is rather sad that only five years after her death, the family decided to cash in on these family heirlooms. One thing not sold was the only finished painting by Parker (seen in Horne's documentary), of how he believed Pree would have looked like as an adult. (Not sure this was sold at Sotheby's?). This naive Modigliani-style picture is haunting and must have been draining for Parker to contemplate.

However, the items that had the 'Parkerites' were chomping at the bit were the Chan Parker tapes. Recordings of Parker made by Chan either at the concerts, or from the radio. There were many 'lots', each with there own special importance. Many included a second tape, a dub of the original, made later on better equipment. Chan had already released most of the recordings at various times but some were never issued and were the real 'Holy Grail' for most Parkerites. Not that being released previously lessened their value, as many of these were the source tapes, the 'masters', the actual tapes used to record Bird: almost as good as being there: crumbs from the Master's table.

As is usual with all Parker discography's, places and events are confused and accepted dates are questioned by Phil Schaap who was asked to analyse the digital versions of the tapes. (Schaap was the person who sorted out the Benedetti Recordings!!). There will be much discussion about accuracy, and even, answers to previously unanswerable questions. For instance, Lot 160a from either June 27th 1953 or 22nd May 1953 were rumoured to exist, but until this auction, no one was sure. There is the recording from Jirahr Zorthian's ranch party in California, where Bird played while he, and everyone else stripped! Or the original tapes from the Rockland benefit concert for members of the communist party. (Parker must surely have appeared in Hoover's FBI files for this!). It is believed that someone else also recorded this concert enabling technicians to produce the only stereo recording of Parker. However, other discographers say that Chan's recording is the only one; all others were from this source. Although Parker is on record as disapproving of bootlegs, Chan's recording of this concert was made on a machine he bought her for her birthday.

Then there's the Birdland tracks from 1950. No one can agree on when these 31 tracks were recorded but it is generally accepted that they were performed during the period 17-23 May. Perhaps now, with the public release of Chan's tapes, the dates can be agreed.

Some of the tapes were used by Clint Eastwood in the movie Bird, most notably where Parker is backed by Lennie Tristano playing with brushes on a piece of paper.

Although many questions will be answered by the release of these tapes, Schaap has also managed to introduce new issues into the debate. Some details in the catalogue are glaringly absent, suggesting either subterfuge, or more likely doubt as to accepted accuracy. For example, several of the tapes are recorded from the radio where Bird sat in with Woody Herman's Orchestra, but for some reason, this is not mentioned in the catalogue, it just states the location and the songs recorded, of which few are Parker standards. Also, stating 'unknown vocalist' at another concert, where it is generally accepted that the vocalist was Sarah Vaughn? I believe Schaap will be defending aspects his catalogue notes for years to come.

Some of the radio recordings capture life in the Parker household, Pree crying, Kim talking, Chan applauding a radio broadcast - did anyone ever applaud a radio concert from their living room? All intensely personal events captured for posterity, a moment in someone's life, although, there is a sense of trespass here.

One rather strange note about the King saxophone was hidden in the addendum to the catalogue. Having traced the serial number of the instrument, they were able to ascertain that it was made 'expressly' for Parker in 1947, yet the photographic evidence of Parker using it, only begins in 1949? So where was it for those two years? The saxophone survived in his possession for the rest of his life then into Chan's possession? So, in the end, Chan had two of his saxophones that were never 'lost', as the press seemed to suggest. However, that fact that the King survived in tact and in Parker's possession (for the most part) until his death, does not seem to sit well with the accepted belief of someone who habitually pawned his (and other's) instruments on a regular basis and who used other's saxophones because his was continually in the pawn shop? Perhaps there is yet another Charlie Parker story here??

A selected list of Parker Items in the catalogue and the amounts they raised.

The auction on Sunday, February 20th, 2005, was remarkable in that Jazz memorabilia rarely becomes available in such quantities and that there was so many Parker items made it the most important Parker auction since Sotheby's in 1994.

Lot 27 Three "Bird Lives" Medals from the Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation - (Sale price): $826 Lot 28 Charlie Parker's cuff links - $3,245Lot 29 First HB Edition of Ross Russell's "Bird Lives", inscribed, "for Chan with love and many, many thanks Ross", plus the galley proof that Chan edited. - $2,360Lot 30 Charlie Parker's Gold pocket watch engraved 'CC'. - $12,980Lot 31 "Mr Charlie Parker: to Bird with Love" limited edition signed by Chan, Kim and Francis Paudras to Chan's mother.- $1,888 Lot 32 Charlie Parker 1974 Best Soloist Grammy from NARSS - $6,490Lot 33 "Charlie Parker Place". Official street sign to commemorate the dedication of Avenue B in New York - $4,425Lot 34 Wallpaper from Charlie Parker's New York apartment - $1,298Lot 35 Parker Glasgow Jazz Hall of Fame Plaque. Accepted by Chan in 3-7-1995 to commemorate Parker's induction into the Glasgow International Jazz Festival Hall of Fame - $1,770Lot 36 Collection of Charlie Parker Ephemera and LP. Five magazines, three promotional cards, three head shot photographs and the Art of Charlie Parker LP - $2,242Lot 37 Charlie Parker's ashtray signed on the underside by Marianna Von Allesch and Buddha-style incense burner - $1,770Lot 38 Unfinished painting by Charlie Parker. Painting of Chan, possibly a nude? - $3,835Lot 39 Charlie Parker's "King" Saxophone - $286,000The Chan Parker TapesPhi Schaap listened to the digital version of these tapes and produced the details listed in the auction catalogue.Lot 146: Four tapes 7 1/2 inch reels - $1,180146a: June 23 1951 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn (Original recording)146b: June 23 1951 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn (Original recording)146c: Duplicate of 146b146d: Duplicate of 146aPreviously released via Bird's Eyes 1/4, 7, 16. Rumour that another hour of this exists somewhere?Lot 147: 2 tapes - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)147a - Part 1: Feb 24 1952 Center Stage TV Broadcast This is recorded from the TV and in the background you can here Pree crying and Kim talking, etc. Previously released by Bird's Eyes Vol 9 & 21147a - Part 2: Sept 20 1952 Birdland broadcastPreviously released on Bird's Eyes Vol 9 and Bird at Birdland, Charly Records Disc 4147a - Part 3: Nov 1 1952 Birdland broadcastPreviously released on Bird at Birdland, Charly Records Disc 4147b: Duplicate of 147a Lot 148: 1 tape - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)Part 1: Phil Woods Copenhagen 1969Part 2: Recordings of commercially available Parker recordingsLot 149: 1 tape - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)Track 1: June 23 1951 Eastern Parkway, BrooklynPreviously released via Bird's Eyes 1/4, 7, 16 Track 2: June 1951 con't. Symphony Ballroom BostonNo record of this. Discographies state that Bird was in Boston at Christy's in April. The only two known recording of this time are from Pennsylvania and New York?Lot 150: 1 tape - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)1958 Camera Three TV Show or radio broadcast.Lot 151: 1 tape - $413Track 1: May 17 1950Track 2: May 17 1950Track 3: May 17 1950Track 4: May 17 1950 This is probably the last recorded gig by Fats Navarro. He died of tuberculosis on the 7th of July. The dates for these tracks are open to discussion. Vail says they come from separate gigs on different dates between 17-23 May. Bregman states 15-16 May. Previously released on 'Bird at Birdland', Charly Records and 'Bird and Fats' Cool and Blue CD.Lot 152: 1 tape - $443Sept 26, 1952, Rockland Palace. Charlie Parker with Strings. Dub of the original tape as the stock is from the 60's or 70's. Catalogue is not clear if it is the whole concert of just selected tracks. Discographies suggest 31 tracks were made at this benefit concert for communist party members. Only 11 are listed here. Chan originally recorded this on a tape machine given to her for her birthday by Charlie. Not sure if another tape was present or not.Previously released on Bird is Free COL-5789 and Charlie Parker with his Quintet and Strings, The Complete Legendary Rockland Palace Concert September 26, 1952, Jazz Classics Records, CD-JCL-5014.Lot 153: 6 tapes - $3,245153a Symphony Ballroom Boston c.1951. No discography lists this date. 'Ladybird' is listed and the only recorded versions for this were from Christy's Restaurant in Boston and a radio broadcast in Paris? It says that Herb Pomeroy remembers a show here in 1951 but appears to get his details wrong. Schaap states a track list that follows the Christy's song list, but on 153b and c are dissimilar.153b & 153c are stated to be original tapes from the concert and are unissued.153d, e and f are all 70's dubs of a,b and c.Lot 154: 1 tape - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)Track 1: July 22, 1951. Strangely, the catalogue doesn't mention that these are recording of Woody Herman with Parker sitting in? It says that some are unissued. Probably dubbed as the stock is 50's but the recording is 1/4 indicating mid-60's or later.Track 2&3: May 17, 1950. More from the Birdland gig that no-one can agree on??. See above.Track 4: See above. Available tracks previously issued by Bird's Eyes Last Unissued, Vol. 23Lot 155: 1 tape - $531Probably dubbed as the stock is 50's but the recording is 1/4 indicating mid-60's or later.Track 1: May 23, 1953. 'Cool Blues, 'All The Things You Are' and Lullaby of Birdland'. Strangely, once again no mention again in the catalogue that it was a recording of Dizzy's All-Stars? July 1952 a short, faint piece of 'Tunisia'; May 30 1953 Previously issued on Bird at Birdland, Charly Records.June 27, 1953. Unissued recordings and no discography contains reference to this date. Tracks are: Star Eyes, Moose the Mooch, Lullaby of Birdland, Ornithology, Lullaby of Birdland (sic).May 17, 1950 Birdland again! See aboveTrack 2&3: More of the same. See above. Schaap suggests there might be an unissued take of Parker's voice her also.Lot 156: 2 tapes - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)Again stock is from the 50's but the recording has been made onto the stock in the 60's or 70'sTrack 1: 1 May 17th, 1950 See aboveTrack 2: July 1952. Says unissued Scrapple from the Apple although there is mention of a version taken from the private tape at Jirahr Zorthian's house in California where everyone stripped naked to Parker playing. Catalogue doesn't mention location.Sept 1952, from the Birdland date. Previously issued on Charlie Parker with his Quintet and Strings, The Complete Legendary Rockland Palace Concert. Says that this and the next track have been mis-recorded but can be discerned as: 9/26/1952, 5/17/1950; 5/9/1953; 7/1952.156b: Dub of 156a. Says some parts in better condition than the original?Lot 157: 1 tape - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)Professionally made dub of Sept 26th, 1952. See above.Lot 158: 2 tapes - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)August 8, 1951 Lenny Tristano's House, New York. Probably the original tape from the session where Tristano accompanies Parker on paper with brushes. Sadly it was thought that there were more tracks of this event, but it appears there are only the two. Previously issued on the soundtrack for Bird: The Movie!June 1951 Veterans Administration Naval Hospital. All previously issued, but strangely, Schaap states, 'unknown vocalist' where several discographies identify Sarah Vaughn? States that this is the source for these issues. Concludes with a short portion from June 6, 1950.Lot 159: 1 tape - (No sale price stated by Guernsey's)Track 1 & 2: July 22, 1951. The Woody Herman gig again from Kansas. See above. Catalogue isn't very clear, but suggests that some parts of known tracks are unissued and that several unissued tracks contain no Parker?Lot 160: 2 tapes - $649160a. May 23, 1953. Again, more debates about when this was recorded. Dizzy's All-stars again with what appear to be unissued scraps not highlighted by Schaap?May 30, 1953 Birdland broadcast. Previously released on the Charly Records mentioned above.June 27 1953. (Or May 22nd, 1953) Was doubt that this session ever existed, and had never been released. Contents: Star Eyes, Moose the Mooch, Ornithology (Sonny Stitt on tenor), Lullaby as the closing theme.160b. Dub of 160a