Make no mistake: though there are other compilations out there worth your time, The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes
way to listen to Charlie Parker—as an introduction, as a continuation, as the inimitable crown jewel of a discography you’ve worn out. It is difficult to overstate Parker’s influence on jazz music in the 20th century and thus on American musical culture, and the 1945-’48 Savoy and Dial sessions find him at the peak of his improvisational and compositional powers. Jamming with a young Miles Davis, Max Roach, Barney Kessel, and a rotating cast of other peak early bebop musicians, Parker finds the warmth and humor in just about every head he composes and the ones he didn’t. Parker’s soloing, alternately smooth and spiky and most famously demonstrated in 1945 bebop kickstarter/“Cherokee” rewrite “Koko,” is a delight for all ears. His style of alternately borrowing and creating, dipping low and high to find melodic phrases he can connect into an inspiring whole, is without parallel in the history of jazz, even as many have tried to recreate the power and fluidity of his improvisational approach.
Yet the best thing about The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes
is that famous, ineffable sense of camaraderie between band members, as if they were ripping out delicate phrases in between ***-shooting sessions, fashioning art from the very material of life and friendship. Check out the funky last few seconds of “Barbados,” for example, where Max Roach lays down a vaguely tropical click-clack groove for Miles Davis and Parker to shimmy back and forth to. Or how about the immediately preceding “Bird Gets the Worm,” where Parker, playing at super-speed with unbelievable breath control and melodic facility, is somehow outdone
by the young Davis—not that I expect Parker would mind.
To this atmospheric end, I may love Parker’s “heads,” or choruses, just as much as I like the solos which work through and with them. “Donna Lee” is a perfect example: twisty as all hell but played in unison between Davis and Parker (and with Bud Powell on piano and Tommy Potter on bass and Max Roach on drums, holy ***), the composition seems to erase before our very eyes the distinction between improv and “practiced” music. Lunging and leaping between octaves, Parker and Davis impeccably weave together something shocking, comforting, damn smart and damn funny. Jazz, and bebop in particular, has always had an extraordinary capacity to open us up to the world of the musicians, the particular conditions of the environment from which they grab material and reform it into spontaneous bursts of sound. Again and again, Charlie Parker reaches that level: never has a sonic world felt more open and inviting than that built by this consummate artist at the top of his game.