Classical Music Influenced Charlie Parker's Compositions with Strings, Lecturer Andrew Speight Says

Monday, September 21, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE -- Altoist Andrew Speight, who teaches at San Francisco State University’s School of Music, has made it his mission to collect as many of Parker’s original string charts as possible.

“Bird studied classical music pretty intently,” says Speight, who was born and raised in Australia and settled in the Bay Area some two decades ago. “He had wanted to do the string thing for a while. You can trace the roots back to Billie Holliday and her album with a small string section.”

Rather than focusing on his large book of original compositions, mostly blues and pieces based upon the chord changes of popular songs, Parker compiled a list of ballads like “Everything Happens to Me,” “April in Paris” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Jimmy Carroll wrote the first batch of charts, and Mitch Miller, who was doing A&R for Mercury, did the contracting, conveniently hiring himself for the oboe chair. Recorded in November 1949, a relatively stable period of Parker’s life, the 10-inch album captures Bird playing with his usual brilliance, but with a softer tone and greater concision.

“The string writing wasn’t very advanced, compared to what Bronislaw Kaper was doing in Hollywood,” Speight says. “But Parker sees the blandness and paints a beautiful picture on the top of it, fully using that contrast.”