JAZZ: Scott DeVeaux, W.W. Norton & Company


. . . and the fact that [Parker] played sax and [Gillespie] trumpet, you know, can you focus on their differences?

There are ways in which, you know, when they came together, they were I think quite astonished to discover that there was another musician at the same level as the other. And there's a way in which bebop comes from their interaction. But they are completely different people. Uh, I tend to think of Charlie Parker as someone whose whole musical genius was aurally based. He just knew, he could listen to any music and fit into it immediately, and he was able to do this just by being able to translate whatever he was hearing immediately onto his saxophone, in ways that completely astounded people.

A lot of the musicians I talked to seemed to regard encountering Charlie Parker as being like a religious conversion because there was just something so intense, they could not believe that this was humanly possible, to do this kind of thing. But it really was done aurally; it was really done in ways that did not require the music to be written down. In fact, he was famous for coming into recording sessions with music written on little scraps of paper that he had in his pocket and kind of putting it out there, and people are trying to make sense of it, but mostly having to learn how it goes by listening to the way Charlie Parker is actually playing this stuff.

Dizzy Gillespie was equally a genius, but somebody who was much more focused [on] notation, much more focused on thinking consciously about how to create this music, and somebody who in essence helped to create bebop by really thinking about the whole ensemble. He knew how to play piano as well as trumpet. He knew enough about drummers to be able to sit down at the drum stool and tell people, no, this is the kind of drumming I want, this is what Kenny Clarke is doing and this is what I want you to do. He was able to go around and tell everybody how to put the whole thing together, and in many ways the overall structure of bebop we have is coming from Dizzy Gillespie's, you know, ingenuity and being able to create this stuff.

In some ways, it was that combination of his ingenuity and then, of course, the sort of magic of Charlie Parker coming into the picture that created something that was so dynamic. And the other thing about Charlie Parker, as well, that I didn't mention before is his knowledge of the blues. Dizzy Gillespie's not a bluesy person; he's from Cheraw, South Carolina – not one of the blues centers of the universe, I suppose. But Charlie Parker was from Kansas City, and he immediately showed how a blues sensibility could be linked up with this extremely modern harmonic and rhythmic sensibility. And just was able to do it in a way that just made it clear the blues would never be the same. What he did with it turned it into a new mid-twentieth- century kind of music.