Unheard Bird Features Dozens of Unreleased Charlie Parker Tracks


The new album Unheard Bird includes 58 previously unrleased studio takes that saxophonist Charlie Parker recorded in the periof of 1949–’52.

(Photo: DownBeat Archives)

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s album Bird Calls (ACT), which topped the Jazz Album category in the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll, provided the jazz world with undeniable proof that today, more than 60 years after his death, musicians continue to be inspired by the groundbreaking music of saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker (1920–’55).

Manhanthappa’s disc consists of his own highly original music that nods to Parker. But for jazz fans, scholars and musicians who want to study the work of the man himself, Verve/UMe will soon unveil Unheard Bird: The Unissued Takes, a new collection of previously unreleased tracks by Parker.

The two-disc set, available July 1, includes 58 previously unreleased studio takes recorded between 1949 and 1952. The set was co-produced by Phil Schaap, the eminent jazz historian who serves as a curator for Jazz At Lincoln Center.

Discovered in a cache of materials owned by a former associate of Norman Granz—the founder of Verve Records and visionary producer of these sessions—the newly discovered takes allow the listener inside the private domain between Parker and Granz as they developed some of the most important music in jazz.

In his highly detailed liner notes, Schaap provides overview, session-by-session history and track-by-track analysis, further illuminating the creative process of Bird’s genius.

Originally issued on Mercury and Clef, but ultimately housed on Verve, the Parker/Granz studio collaborations were thoughtfully conceived to display Bird’s unparalleled talents in a variety of contexts. These included Parker’s four to six piece ensembles (both working and pick-up groups); Latin jazz efforts, some of which were labeled “South of the Border”; the orchestral Charlie Parker including his masterpieces with strings; standard big band; and Parker’s prescient view of the Third Stream.

Unheard Bird touches on all of these, including a couple of brief false starts on “If I Should Lose You” that were not included in the 2015 set Charlie Parker With Strings: Deluxe Edition.

From the Latin side, there are five tracks with Parker as the featured soloist with Machito and his orchestra. Additionally, there are 13 “South of the Border” tracks that feature a rhythm section of Walter Bishop, Teddy Kotick and Roy Haynes or Max Roach, along with Jose Mangual and Luis Miranda on bongos and congas, respectively, and joined on a pair by trumpeter Benny Harris. Listeners can hear snippets of studio chatter, including Bird discussing tempo; on “Tico Tico” he asks studio guests to quiet down lest they ruin the session.

Jazz historians will want to explore the 10 tracks from a Cole Porter project that was never completed due to Parker’s illness and untimely passing. Featuring a big band that included such titans as Oscar Peterson, Freddie Green, Flip Phillips and Ray Brown, Bird digs into three Porter classics: “Night and Day,” “What Is This Thing Called Love” and “Almost Like Being in Love.”

More than half of the package features Bird in the small-group, hardcore bop settings for which he was best known. This features a reuniting of Parker’s quintet, referred to as The Golden Era BeBop Five, the only Granz-produced recordings by this ensemble. These 14 tracks feature Kenny Dorham, Al Haig, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. They are joined for four more by trombonist Tommy Turk and Carlos Vidal on conga.

Dizzy Gillespie joins Bird for 10 tracks, along with Thelonious Monk, Curley Russell and Buddy Rich. The all-Parker program includes complete run-throughs of “An Oscar For Treadwell,” “Bloomdido” and “Mohawk.” A quartet setting brings Hank Jones, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich to the bandstand for explorations of the Raye/DePaul gem “Star Eyes” and Parker’s “Blues (Fast).”

To round out the new, 69-track set, included are the songs’ master takes. The unusual math here—58 unreleased takes plus 20 master takes that somehow equal 69 tracks—is due to the producers combining some of the shorter takes for this release.

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