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One night in Birdland

Let's take a look at a famous and discussed all-star session, which is usually dated as June 17, 1950 at Birdland in New York.

The tune we're envolved with is a C blues, one of Parker's blues, called Cool Blues.

Our source comes from an audience recording and the ensemble playing on that tune has Bird on alto and Fats Navarro on trumpet.

Our discussion is about a supposed error that Bird should have done on playing the out theme.

We'll show that, as we could expect, Bird does no error at all on the form.

Cool Blues

Let's have a look at the basic harmonic structure of the blues:

|   Cmaj7       |   Cmaj7       |   Cmaj7       |   Gm7   C7   |

|   F7           |   F7           |   Cmaj7       |   Em7   A7   |

|   Dm7         |   G7           |   Cmaj7       |   Dm7   G7   |

And now, the theme: the Cool Blues theme is pure Bird genius.

It consists of a single phrase, which camufles to accomodate the blues harmony changes, so one has the impression of listening a single riff which repeat three times: on bars 1-4, then on bars 5-8, and at last on bars 9-12.

Let's listen to Cool Blues theme

Let's hear what happens after Walter Bishop piano solo, just before the out theme.

What we hear seems a typical exchange situation, where one or more soloist engage exchanges with drums, playing each four bars, until one of them (whose turn is properly placed) plays the out theme.

It's Fats Navarro who starts the chase. playing bars 1-4 of the C blues chorus

, then we hear drums playing bars 5-8
and Bird playing bars 9-12

Next chorus, Fats Navarro again, on bars 1-4

, then Bird on bars 5-8
and Fats again, on bars 9-12

Drums start a new chorus

, then Bird on bars 5-8
and again Fats on bars 9-12

Now let's hear what happens

After four bars of drums (bars 1-4) Bird enters (on bar 5) and we hear something that resembles the main theme, the out theme.

So we could think he's wrong, because it is not the turn to start playing the out theme...

But this is Charlie Parker, and be sure he knows well what is playing!

He is playing a blues, a C blues, and bars bars 5-6 must be played on F7, so let's hear what Bird plays there

It is not definitely the first theme phrase, the one on bars 1-4, the one that must be played on Cmaj7, the one which has natural E on melody

but the second, the one on bars 5-8, the one that must be played on F7, the one where the theme bends on E flat


Because we must remember that this was Bird, the great Charlie Parker!

Fats Navarro plays the last four bars of the chorus, as anyone expects, and then Bird starts the out theme.

List of referenced discography:

- Charlie Parker: One Night In Birdland (Sony Records SRCS 7111/2)

Complete transcriptions of referenced Fats Navarro solos are available on themusicofmiles

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