At his11/26/45 recording date for Savoy, his first session as a leader, Charlie Parker produced 3 of his best known and most influential solos, Now’s the Time, Billie’s Bounce, and Koko. These 3 recordings have challenged and inspired generations of alto saxophonists, and to learn these solos is an essential part of learning Bird’s language. That particular day in the studio was also the source of many folk tales, thanks to Teddy Rieg’s casual paperwork, Bird’s loose concept of leadership, and the haphazard research that used to be acceptable in jazz criticism and scholarship. The actual story of that day is fascinating (see here for more details) and much more music was recorded besides the 3 most famous tracks.
Which brings us to Meandering. Several weeks ago a colleague – Marc Phanuef – played me a fragment of a gorgeous Bird solo that sounded like it might be on the changes of “Embraceable You.” Marc says the mystery snippet was used in the background during the Charlie Parker section of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary. Where was the rest of this great track? After a little research we were surprised to discover that the recording was “Meandering” from the 11/26/45 session that we thought we already knew very well. In order to fully appreciate this solo we needed to hear it outside of it’s usual context as a ‘lesser’ outtake next to the monumental Koko, Now’s the Time, and Billie’s Bounce. Clearly it’s a wonderful full chorus of Bird at his heartfelt best; an artistic achievement well worth studying.
Yes, the track is an out-take for good reasons. It’s apparently a loose rehearsal rather than a finished performance, and the changes that Dizzy is comping at the piano don’t always match the harmonies that Bird implies during his solo. (In the final turnaround in the last two measures of Birds’ chorus, Bird, Dizzy and bassist Curly Russell all go in different harmonic directions before landing together at the top of the next chorus.) And then there’s the brutal cut in the fourteenth measure of the piano solo – ouch!
Here’s a PDF of Bird’s Meandering solo written out for alto sax. (The chord symbols describe the changes Dizzy is comping and they don’t always match Bird’s harmony.)
Hope you enjoy listening to it and playing it as much I do!