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Charlie Parker, jazz saxophonist and composer, was born 103 years ago today
Opening night at Birdland, the New York club on Broadway named for Charlie Parker, December 16, 1949
From left to right, Max Kaminsky on trumpet, Lester Young on sax, “Hot Lips” Page on trumpet, Charlie Parker on alto sax and Lennie Trastano on piano.
It was the first time that these noted musicians, representing different schools of modern music, had played together.
Photo by New York Times
Charlie Parker was born 103 years ago today.
Known as “Yardbird” and “Bird,” Parker was an accomplished American jazz saxophonist and composer. He acquired the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career and the shortened form, "Bird,” which continued to be used for the rest of his life.
His nickname inspired the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as "Yardbird Suite,” "Ornithology,” "Bird Gets the Worm" and "Bird of Paradise."
Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique and improvisation. He introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas, including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords and chord substitutions.
His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Many Parker recordings demonstrate virtuosic technique and complex melodic lines, sometimes combining jazz with other musical genres, including blues, Latin and classical. Parker was an icon for a hip subculture and the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual, rather than an entertainer.
Born in Kansas City, Kansas, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Parker began playing the saxophone at age 11. At age 14, he joined his school's band using a rented school instrument. His father, Charles, was often absent but provided some musical influence. He was a pianist, dancer and singer on the T.O.B.A. circuit.
In the late 1930s, Parker began to practice diligently. During this period, he mastered improvisation and developed some of the ideas that led to bebop. Bands led by Count Basie and Bennie Moten undoubtedly influenced Parker.
He played with local bands in jazz clubs around Kansas City, where he perfected his technique, with the assistance of Buster Smith, whose dynamic transitions to double and triple time influenced Parker's developing style. In 1938, Parker made his professional debut with Jay McShann's territory band.
As a teenager, he developed a morphine addiction while in the hospital, after an automobile accident, and subsequently became addicted to heroin. He continued using heroin throughout his life, which ultimately contributed to his death.
In 1939, Parker moved to New York City to pursue a career in music. He held several other jobs as well. He worked for nine dollars a week as a dishwasher at Jimmie's Chicken Shack, where the pianist, Art Tatum, performed.
In 1942, Parker left McShann's band and played with Earl Hines for one year, whose band included Dizzy Gillespie, who later played with Parker as a duo. Unfortunately, this period is virtually undocumented, due to the strike of 1942–1943 by the American Federation of Musicians, during which time few recordings were made.
Parker joined a group of young musicians, and played in after-hours clubs in Harlem, such as Clark Monroe's Uptown House and Minton's Playhouse. These young iconoclasts included Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, guitarist Charlie Christian and drummer Kenny Clarke.
One night in 1939, Parker was playing "Cherokee" in a jam session with guitarist William "Biddy" Fleet when he hit upon a method for developing his solos that enabled one of his main musical innovations. He realized that the twelve tones of the chromatic scale can lead melodically to any key, breaking some of the confines of simpler jazz soloing.
Early in its development, this new type of jazz was rejected by many of the established, traditional jazz musicians who disdained their younger counterparts. The beboppers responded by calling these traditionalists "moldy figs.”
However, some musicians, such as Coleman Hawkins and Benny Goodman, were more positive about its development, and participated in jam sessions and recording dates in the new approach with its adherents. It was not until 1945, when the recording ban was lifted, that Parker's collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell and others had a substantial effect on the jazz world.
One of their first (and greatest) small-group performances together was rediscovered and issued in 2005: a concert in New York's Town Hall on June 22, 1945. Bebop soon gained wider appeal among musicians and fans alike.
On November 26, 1945, Parker led a record date for the Savoy label, marketed as the "greatest Jazz session ever." The tracks recorded during this session include "Ko-Ko" and "Now's the Time.”
Parker's chronic addiction to heroin caused him to miss gigs and lose work. He frequently resorted to busking on the streets, receiving loans from fellow musicians and admirers, and pawning his saxophones for drug money. Heroin use was rampant in the jazz scene and the drug could be acquired easily.
Parker died in the suite of his friend and patron, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City while watching The Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show on television. The official causes of death were lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer, but Parker also had an advanced case of cirrhosis and had suffered a heart attack.
The coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker's 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60 years of age.
Here, Parker and Dizzy Gillespie perform “Hot House” on television in 1951.
Ingrid Bergman was born 108 years ago today.
Bergman was a Swedish actress who starred in a variety of European and American films, including Casablanca in 1942. She won three Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and the Tony Award for Best Actress.
She is ranked as the fourth greatest female star of American cinema of all time by the American Film Institute.
Bergman is remembered for her roles as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942), a World War II drama co-starring Humphrey Bogart, and as Alicia Huberman in Notorious (1946), an Alfred Hitchcock thriller co-starring Cary Grant.
Before becoming a star in American films, she had been a leading actress in Swedish films. Her first introduction to U.S. audiences came with her starring role in the English-language remake of Intermezzo in 1939.
In the United States, she brought to the screen a "Nordic freshness and vitality," along with exceptional beauty and intelligence, and according to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, she quickly became "the ideal of American womanhood" and one of Hollywood's greatest leading actresses.
After her performance in Victor Fleming's remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1941, she was noticed by her future producer, David O. Selznick, who called her "the most completely conscientious actress" he had ever worked with. He gave her a seven-year acting contract, supporting her continued success.
A few of her other starring roles, besides Casablanca, included For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Under Capricorn (1949) and the independent production, Joan of Arc (1948).
In 1950, after a decade of stardom in American films, she starred in the Italian film, Stromboli, which led to a love affair with director Roberto Rossellini while they were both already married.
The affair and then marriage with Rossellini created a scandal that forced her to remain in Europe until 1956, when she made a successful Hollywood return in Anastasia, for which she won her second Academy Award, as well as the forgiveness of her fans.
Many of her personal and film documents can be seen in the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives.
Bergman died of breast cancer on her 67th birthday in 1982.
Here is Bergman in the famous “Here’s Looking At You Kid” scene from Casablanca.
Preston Sturges was born 125 years ago today.
A celebrated playwright, screenwriter and film director born in Chicago, Sturges won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film, The Great McGinty. He took the screwball comedy format of the 1930s to another level, writing dialogue that — when heard today — is often surprisingly naturalistic, mature and ahead of its time, despite the farcical situations.
In recent years, film scholars such as Alessandro Pirolini have also argued that Sturges' cinema anticipated more experimental narratives by contemporary directors such as Joel and Ethan Coen, Robert Zemeckis and Woody Allen, along with prolific The Simpsons writer, John Swartzwelder.
"Many of [Sturges'] movies and screenplays reveal a restless and impatient attempt to escape codified rules and narrative schemata, and to push the mechanisms and conventions of their genre to the extent of unveiling them to the spectator,” wrote Pirolini.
Prior to Sturges, other figures in Hollywood such as Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Frank Capra had directed films from their own scripts.
However, Sturges is often regarded as the first Hollywood figure to be initially successfully established as a screenwriter and then to subsequently move into directing his own scripts, at a time when those roles were mostly entrenched and separate.
Sturges sold the story for The Great McGinty to Paramount Pictures for $1, in return for being allowed to direct the film. The sum was quietly raised to $10 by the studio for legal reasons.
Sturges died at age 60 of a heart attack at the Algonquin Hotel while writing his autobiography in August, 1959.
Here are Sturge’s 11 Rules for box office appeal:
1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.
Michael Jackson was born 65 years ago today.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Jackson began performing with his four brothers in the pop group the Jackson 5 when he was a child. The group scored its first #1 single in 1969, with "I Want You Back." By age 11, Jackson was appearing on TV, and, by age 14, he had released his first solo album.
A Jackson 5 TV cartoon series appeared in the early '70s, and in 1976 the Jackson family, including sister, Janet Jackson, launched a TV variety show called The Jacksons that ran for one season. Throughout the 70s, media attention focused on Michael, who piped vocals in his high voice for "ABC," "I'll Be There" and many other Top 20 hits. Jackson released several solo albums in the '70s, but his great breakthrough came in 1979 with Off the Wall.
He became the first solo artist to score four Top 10 hits from one album, including "She's Out of My Life" and "Rock with You." His next album, Thriller (1983), became the biggest selling album up to that time, selling some 45 million copies around the world.
Although his next album, Bad (1987), sold only about half as many copies as Thriller, it was still a tremendous best-seller. In 1991, Jackson signed an unprecedented $65 million record deal with Sony. That year, he released Dangerous. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson developed a reputation as an eccentric recluse.
He moved to a 2,700-acre ranch called Neverland, which he outfitted with wild animals and a Ferris wheel. He underwent a facelift and nose job and was rumored to have lightened his skin through chemical treatment, though he claimed his increasing pallor was due to a skin disease.
In 1993, scandal broke when Jackson was publicly accused of child molestation. The case settled out of court.
In 1994, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. The couple later divorced. Jackson married Deborah Rowe in 1996, and the couple had two children, Prince and Paris, before divorcing in 1999.
On June 13, 2005, Jackson was acquitted of sexual molestation of a young boy, Gavin Arvizo, in criminal court.
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, in Los Angeles, just weeks before a planned concert tour billed as his "comeback." The cause of death was acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. He was 50 years old.
Dinah Washington was born 99 years ago today.
A pianist, blues, R&B, gospel, pop and jazz singer, Washington has been cited as "the most popular black female recording artist of the '50s” and called "The Queen of the Blues.”
Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Washington moved to Chicago as a child. She became deeply involved in gospel and played piano for the choir in St. Luke's Baptist Church while she was still in elementary school. She sang gospel music in church and played piano, directing her church choir in her teens and being a member of the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers.
Washington’s involvement with the gospel choir occurred after she won an amateur contest at Chicago's Regal Theater where she sang, "I Can't Face the Music.” She made her recording debut for the Keynote label that December with "Evil Gal Blues,” written by Leonard Feather and backed by Hampton and musicians from his band, including Joe Morris (trumpet) and Milt Buckner (piano).
Both that record and its follow-up, "Salty Papa Blues,” made Billboard's "Harlem Hit Parade" in 1944. She stayed with Hampton's band until 1946 and, after the Keynote label folded, signed for Mercury Records as a solo singer. Her first record for Mercury, a version of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin’,” was another hit, starting a long string of success.
Washington was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century — beloved to her fans, devotees and fellow singers. She was controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop.
Hers was a gritty, salty, high-pitched voice, marked by absolute clarity of diction and clipped, bluesy phrasing.
Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington's seventh husband, Lane, went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive.
Dr. B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, which contributed to her death at the age of 39.
Here, Washington performs “That's All I Want From You” in 1955.
In one of pop music's most famous and beautiful turns of phrase, songwriter Don McLean called the date on which the world lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson "the Day the Music Died."
But while three rising young pop stars may have died on February 3, 1959, their music certainly didn't die with them.
On August 29, 1987 — 36 years ago — and nearly 30 years after the most famous plane crash in music history, Ritchie Valens, the youngest of that crash's three famous victims, made a return of sorts to the top of the pop charts when his signature tune, "La Bamba," became a #1 hit for the band, Los Lobos, from Valens' own hometown of Los Angeles.
Richard Stevens Valenzuela was a 17-year-old San Fernando Valley high school student when he adapted "La Bamba," a traditional folk song from Veracruz, Mexico, into the vernacular of rock and roll.
In climbing to #22 on the Billboard pop chart in January, 1959, "La Bamba" became the biggest Spanish-language rock-and-roll hit in history, though the young man who recorded it did not himself speak Spanish.
This interesting fact about Ritchie Valens's life did not become known to many until the release of the hugely successful Hollywood biopic, La Bamba, which sent the song from which it took its title on a second run up the pop charts, culminating in its ascent to the #1 slot on this day in 1987.
The Los Angeles alternative rock band, Los Lobos, was a natural choice to record the La Bamba soundtrack. Though their own work is difficult to categorize, Los Lobos were longtime veterans of the L.A. club scene who could tear through early rock-and-roll classics as easily as they could open for acts as diverse as Bob Dylan and Public Image, Ltd.
Though their posthumous memorials to Ritchie Valens ("La Bamba" and "Come On Let's Go," both from the La Bamba soundtrack) were the only Top 40 hits ever recorded by Los Lobos, their under-the-radar pop career includes many unique and critically acclaimed works (e.g., 1983's Will The Wolf Survive? and 2003's Good Morning Aztlàn) that fell just far enough outside both the pop and Latin mainstreams as to miss being true commercial hits.
Here is Lou Diamond Phillips performing in the film version, “La Bamba,” in 1987.
The Beatles in Candlestick Park, August 29, 1966
On this night in 1966 — 57 years ago — about 25,000 people watched the Beatles play their final live formal concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
In the final leg of Beatlemania’s last global tour — including 14 cities in the U.S. — the band played 11 songs on this blustery night. They opened with “Rock And Roll Music” and closed with “Long Tall Sally.”
The Beatles had decided to give up touring and focus on studio work. But, at the time, only they knew that. Their publicist taped most of the show on a cassette recorder. The recording, which has been bootlegged, was never released by the group.
One summer earlier, the band had become the first to play at a major stadium. While that’s common today, groups had been generally limited to theaters, auditoriums and indoor arenas. “We’d like to say that it’s been wonderful being here, in this wonderful sea air,” Paul McCartney told the crowd that night in San Francisco.
The last time the Beatles sang in public together was more than two years later, on Jan. 30, 1969, on a rooftop in London. The short session was for a documentary coinciding with the release of what turned out to be the Fab Four’s final released album, “Let It Be.” Amid the din, startled neighbors called the police, while others climbed onto rooftops to watch.
By the beginning of the next decade, the best-selling act in history broke up.
Thanks New York Times!
The Face of War, 1940
Painting by Salvador Dali