43 Songs, 2 Hours 21 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

The words “Supervised by Norman Granz” are appended after the title Charlie Parker With Strings. Those familiar with the troubled genius of bebop can intuit that “supervising” Bird was typically a difficult if not impossible task. As Tad Hershorn breaks it down in his book Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice, Granz had exclusive rights to record Parker from 1948 until the alto saxophonist’s death, and through much of it Parker was a wreck, firmly in the grip of addiction.

Yet in late November 1949, Parker was able to record six tracks for Mercury with a jazz rhythm section and a chamber group of three violins, viola, cello, oboe/English horn, and harp. The strings idea would prove influential: Clifford Brown followed suit on Clifford Brown With Strings in 1955; Stan Getz recorded with strings on his celebrated 1961 album Focus. The concept in Parker’s case was all standards, no originals, in marked contrast to much of his output. More songs were recorded in July 1950 and January 1952, but the Verve packages we know today as Charlie Parker With Strings (including the Complete Master Takes and the Deluxe Edition) stem from what was originally something a piecemeal effort on Mercury’s part.

While Granz was certainly concerned with commercial success (and he got it—the “Just Friends” single, Hershorn notes, was Parker’s best-selling record ever), it would be facile to assume this was some attempt to neuter the fiercest of improvisers with a misplaced easy-listening format. Parker’s interest in classical music, as well as his desire to try new things beyond the conventional small jazz group, is well-established. He was especially drawn to the 20th-century innovations of Stravinsky and others, who stretched harmony and rhythm in ways that the master bebopper admired. Sadly, Parker was unable to develop this thread in his music any further.

Critics may have bashed Charlie Parker With Strings at the time (as well as other late-career Parker projects that Granz oversaw), but our knowledge of the artist would be poorer if we’d never heard him navigate this batch of songs, “singing” their beautiful melodies on alto, masterfully inserting bebop language, and sounding very much in his element.

EDITORS’ NOTES

The words “Supervised by Norman Granz” are appended after the title Charlie Parker With Strings. Those familiar with the troubled genius of bebop can intuit that “supervising” Bird was typically a difficult if not impossible task. As Tad Hershorn breaks it down in his book Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice, Granz had exclusive rights to record Parker from 1948 until the alto saxophonist’s death, and through much of it Parker was a wreck, firmly in the grip of addiction.

Yet in late November 1949, Parker was able to record six tracks for Mercury with a jazz rhythm section and a chamber group of three violins, viola, cello, oboe/English horn, and harp. The strings idea would prove influential: Clifford Brown followed suit on Clifford Brown With Strings in 1955; Stan Getz recorded with strings on his celebrated 1961 album Focus. The concept in Parker’s case was all standards, no originals, in marked contrast to much of his output. More songs were recorded in July 1950 and January 1952, but the Verve packages we know today as Charlie Parker With Strings (including the Complete Master Takes and the Deluxe Edition) stem from what was originally something a piecemeal effort on Mercury’s part.

While Granz was certainly concerned with commercial success (and he got it—the “Just Friends” single, Hershorn notes, was Parker’s best-selling record ever), it would be facile to assume this was some attempt to neuter the fiercest of improvisers with a misplaced easy-listening format. Parker’s interest in classical music, as well as his desire to try new things beyond the conventional small jazz group, is well-established. He was especially drawn to the 20th-century innovations of Stravinsky and others, who stretched harmony and rhythm in ways that the master bebopper admired. Sadly, Parker was unable to develop this thread in his music any further.

Critics may have bashed Charlie Parker With Strings at the time (as well as other late-career Parker projects that Granz oversaw), but our knowledge of the artist would be poorer if we’d never heard him navigate this batch of songs, “singing” their beautiful melodies on alto, masterfully inserting bebop language, and sounding very much in his element.

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