If Bird’s bebop finally did become the new pop music it just might sound like Allison Au and Tara Kannangara

Jul 15th, 2016 | By | Category: Entertainment

The great Charlie Parker – Bird in flight.

[CW EDITORS NOTE : Nos cÅ“urs et les esprits vont vers les gens du premier pays de mère européenne du Canada, à la suite de l’attaque terroriste épouvantable à Nice hier — un jour que tous ceux qui aiment la liberté et la démocratie dans le monde d’aujourd’hui célèbrent, épaule contre épaule avec le peuple de France.]

Years ago now I spent the better part of a summer holiday sketching yet another book project that never reached fruition. The projected title was Bird Hop : Charlie Parker and American Culture.

I have just now been searching old files. The introductory paragraphs of my proposed first chapter went as follows :

Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920. After a short and tormented but stunningly productive life he died in 1955 in New York City, at the suite of the Rothschild heiress Nica de Koenigswarter in what was then the Stanhope Hotel (now known as 995 Fifth Avenue).

Robert Altman – a great movie director hard at work even in his old age.

His unique contribution to American popular culture remains a minority taste. But you can still buy virtually all his major recordings and various written-down versions of his music. Clint Eastwood made a controversial 1988 feature film about him (called Bird – Parker’s nickname). A very young Charlie Parker is portrayed briefly in Robert Altman’s 1996 movie, Kansas City.

The early 21st century Internet includes an official website run by the Parker estate, an item about a 32 cent US stamp with Parker’s image, and many other related attractions (including downloadable music files). Considerably larger numbers of people must know and appreciate his music now than at the height of his all-too-brief live career, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Charlie Parker Residence at 151 Avenue B, across from Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, Manhattan. His last home, with Chan Richardson and family. Designated a New York City landmark in 1999.

My own feeling is that the numbers will continue to grow quietly. After a long meditation, I have come to the personal conclusion that Charlie Parker is probably the greatest and certainly the most interesting musician that America has yet produced.

To start with, he is the world’s most brilliant saxophone player. Much beyond this, he is the great innovator of bebop jazz, which remains the finest achievement of American popular music – the point at which it comes closest to an authentic high art.”

Along with a draft text for the remainder of this first chapter the material I still have on file in my basement includes a set of headings for nine further chapters. The tenth and final one somewhat crazily asked “What If Bop Had Become the New Pop Music (instead of rock n’ roll)?”

* * * *

Elvis Presley’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, September 9, 1956.

In fact, of course, rock n’ roll did become the new pop music in the 1950s. (Elvis Presley first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1956 – about a year and a half after Charlie Parker died.) It was a simpler but also more energetic and exciting version of the old “Great American Songbook” pop music of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

The bebop jazz that Charlie Parker did so much to pioneer was a more complicated and musically sophisticated but also more energetic and exciting version of the old pop music of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

What both rock and bebop jazz had in common was a great debt to the African American musical tradition of the blues. As some would see things, however, by making the Great American Songbook music more complicated and musically sophisticated, bebop and modern jazz generally were going in exactly the opposite direction to what the mass market wanted.

Allison Au.

Now, in the early 21st century it still does seem to me that there is new room for challenging this older point of view. And this may have been stiffened in my mind by a headline in yesterday’s Toronto metro news tabloid  : “Rock ‘n’ roll is dead – and that’s a good thing.”

In any case, I was on my way to a noon-hour double concert at the College Park Courtyard in Toronto when I read this headline. The concert featured successive presentations by the local Allison Au and Tara Kannangara groups – which just blew me away.

(Two attractive young women playing great and not at all inaccessible music – on alto sax and trumpet [and vocals], along with talented and innovative rhythm sections – in a small park-like city outdoor space next to an indoor fast-food emporium, on an breezy summer day. Who could ask for anything more?)

Tara Kannangara.

At the end of the concert it suddenly struck me that maybe the music of Allison Au and Tara Kannangara was at least the beginning of an answer to the question I’d posed to myself long ago in an abandoned book outline on Bird Hop : Charlie Parker and American Culture :  “What If Bop Had Become the New Pop Music (instead of rock n’ roll)?”

Of course, it couldn’t have happened then. But now, almost 60 years after Elvis first appeared on Ed Sullivan, maybe you actually would have a new pop music that sounds quite a lot like the music of Allison Au and Tara Kannangara. (And Ms Au has confessed to a newspaper reporter in Ottawa that “I’m still blown away by Charlie Parker and continue to check out his recordings on a regular basis. I’m in the midst of transcribing one of his solos.”) … And that would be a fantastic fresh departure … that might even start making money again, for at least some of the still far too many starving musicians …


(1) Allison Au

Charlie Parker in a photo booth, Kansas City, 1940.

* Her website : “Allison Au is a Toronto-based saxophonist, composer and arranger … “

* “Six questions for Allison Au,” PETER HUM, OTTAWA CITIZEN. Published on: August 22, 2014.

* Allison Au Quartet on You Tube  – “Tumble”.

* Review : “Allison Au Quartet: Forest Grove,”  By DAVE WAYNE, ALL ABOUT JAZZ. Published: March 26, 2016.

* Juno Awards : JAZZ ALBUM OF THE YEAR: GROUP 2016 WINNER …  “The Allison Au Quartet is a Toronto based modern jazz ensemble.”

(2) Tara Kananngara

* Her website : “Categorizing her diverse sound is a difficult proposition. Tara’s preferred tag is ‘Groove-Based Indie Jazz,’ for elements of melodic indie pop are seamlessly meshed with fresh jazz grooves. Similarly, the mellow feel of her trumpet playing neatly complements the subtle nuances of her unaffected vocal style …”

This early newspaper account of his death mistakenly reported Charlie Parker’s age as 53. In fact he was just 35. The article gives the cause of death as "pneumonia."

* “Ontario releases you need to hear: Weaves, Minotaurs and Tara Kannangara … Top picks for the week of Mar. 19 on CBC Radio’s In the Key of C … By Amanda Grant, CBC News. Posted Mar 19, 2016 12:03 PM ET.

* Tara Kannangara Group on You Tube – “Sound The Alarm”.

* “In Montreal with the Tara Kannangara Group,” by Jason Stillman, Contributing Writer, nextbop.com.

* The TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival presents Tara Kannangara Quintet on June 26 at 2pm and 3:30pm at the Yardbird Suite, 11 Tommy Banks Way.

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