My Favorites (Jazz): “Just Friends” and “In the Still of the Night” - Charlie “Yardbird” Parker

When I first started learning to play jazz on the saxophone I listened to many of the great masters and I went through many phases. I had my Dexter Gordon phase, my Johnny Griffin phase, my Coltrane phase and thankfully early on in my learning, I had a Charlie Parker phase.  Two of the recordings that really blew my mind were the songs “Just Friends” and “In The Still Of The Night.”

Of course I was blown away by the speed and rhythm that Bird played his solo sections with, but it is also the cohesiveness that he plays with.  He doesn’t play notes just to play them. Even though he is playing fast he plays complete phrases and connects them at a high rate of speed. 

It is this attention to detail that made Charlie Parker the genius that he was.  Just think of amazing athletes like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and others whose quickness and speed make them stand out above all others in their field.  Their ability to foresee events and make split second adjustments puts them in a whole separate class of athlete. Bird exhibited this ability in music where he could come up with intelligent and physically demanding musical ideas at the drop of a hat and respond to any musical situation whether it was classical music, Latin music or jazz.

On top of being able to create thoughtful musical ideas at a high rate of speed, Bird had a sense of humor and musical wit that kept you on your toes.  In the middle of playing ridiculously fast lines in “In the Still of the Night,” he throws in a musical quote of the last phrase of “Three Blind Mice.” Not the first part of the melody to make it obvious that he was quoting a popular nursery rhyme, but the last part of the melody to show that he has a vast musical knowledge to call upon and he knows how to use it in unique ways others wouldn’t normally use it.

Even though these recordings may sound a bit dated with the orchestral arranging style and the recording quality, they are still amazing recordings that highlight a productive time in the brief career of one of jazz music’s foundational masters.

In the Still of the Night

Just Friends

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