If there is one Charlie Parker album with which to celebrate his centennial…
It’s been called “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever”.
And with the passage of nearly 70 years since it was recorded at Toronto’s Massey Hall in May 1953, there’s still an incredibly strong argument for the case of the group simply called The Quintet featuring Charlie Parker, who turned 100 today.
It was the only time these five men–saxophonist Parker, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, pianist Bud Powell, Charles Mingus on double bass and drummer Max Roach–would share the same stage together, each member of this elite unit an architect to the BeBop movement that moved jazz past the stuffy ballrooms and into sweaty and smoky nightclubs. But these men were not perfect in the least. Powell had just been discharged from Bellvue Hospital on account of a breach of his mental stability compounded by rampant alcoholism. Diz loved his trees, but stayed away from the hard stuff, while Mingus was clean but battled with anger issues and sex addiction. Parker, meanwhile, had less than two more years to live before succumbing to his crippling dependence on opiods that would take his life on March 12, 1955.
In fact, Bird wound up selling his brass saxophone before performing at Massey Hall so he could cop a fix. His substitute was a plastic alto made by Grafton, but he played it as though the horn was handcrafted by Selmer Paris. And while they performed to a diminished crowd thanks to being double booked against the Rocky Marciano title fight, the club promoters–strapped for cash–gave the men the board tapes in exchange, which Mingus would release on his Debut Records imprint, entitled Jazz at Massey Hall.
“The five musicians assembled on the stage of Toronto’s Massey Hall at the instigation of the local Jazz Society in the spring of 1953 comprised of the cream of the latter-day jazz men,” wrote the late influential British jazz critic Alun Morgan on the original liner notes featured on the back cover of the album. “The highly individualistic Dizzy Gillespie and Chatlie Parker were united after months in which touring schedules had kept them apart. The pioneers who had set the world aflame in the mid-Forties again stood shoulder to shoulder. Charlie Mingus’ tape recorder was on hand to immortalize the occasion.”
Between his work on the Savoy, Dial and Verve labels alone, there is enough of s treasure trove of Charlie to keep you busy for the majority of your remaining days.
Yet if you wanna truly hear the Bird in top flight for his centennial, there’s nowhere else to start than Massey Hall 1953. Regardless of fidelity.