Charlie Parker’s prolific and historic first three trips to Los Angeles have been collected together as Bird In LA, a 28-track collection of mostly unreleased and incredibly rare recordings, releasing digitally for streaming and download for the very first time, and in a 4-LP black vinyl box set on May 19 via Verve/UMe. This wide release, due to popular demand, follows a limited-edition vinyl release exclusive for Record Store Day Black Friday in 2021, which sold out instantly, and a 2-CD version, currently still available.
Throughout his brief but influential life, Charlie “Bird” Parker made an enormous impact on popular music as one of the architects of modern jazz. The jazz titan, inarguably one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and spent much of his adult life in New York.
Nonetheless, Los Angeles looms large in his musical life as he spent more time in L.A. than anywhere outside of K.C. and N.Y. From 1945-1954, Parker made half a dozen trips to the City of Angels and recorded many of his greatest musical triumphs there. In December 1945, Parker and Dizzy Gillespie changed music forever by bringing the sound of bebop from the East Coast to the West Coast for a fabled two-month residency at Billy Berg’s Supper Club in Hollywood billed as “Bebop Invades the West.”
Entranced by the city, Parker would end up staying for an extended amount of time in which he gigged all around town, recorded at a Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concert, and made some pivotal recordings for the nascent Dial label. Following a drug-fueled physical and mental collapse at the infamous July 29, 1946 “Lover Man” session, he was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for a six-month stint for his heroin addiction. Shortly after being released in January 1947, Bird would stick around for a few more months, which included a well-documented two-week engagement at the Hi-De-Ho Club, before heading back to NYC. He would return to L.A. four more times, briefly in November 1948 with JATP, for a three-month stay during the summer of 1952, and for shorter visits in 1953 and 1954.
Recorded between 1945 and 1952, the performances presented chronologically on Bird In LA are highlighted by the only known recordings from Billy Berg’s on December 17, 1945, three previously unknown JATP recordings from The Shrine Auditorium on November 22, 1948, and the complete recordings of the legendary July 1952 party at Jirayr Zorthian’s bohemian Altadena ranch. The box set comes complete with a booklet featuring rarely seen photographs, comprehensive track info detailing recording dates and personnel, and an illuminating and extensive essay by the album’s producer, John Burton, who provides an in-depth history of Bird’s fruitful time in L.A. as well as the significance of these incredible recordings. The album cover is of Zorthian’s kinetic 1952 painting, “Orchestra.”
Although Bird and Dizzy performed at Billy Berg’s for a two month stretch, no recordings of the performances have ever surfaced until this release, despite being broadcast live on local radio. These recordings, capturing a cross-section of the December 17 program, presented here for the first time in their entirety and mastered from the original discs, come from a pair of homemade 10-inch acetate discs discovered by Bird detectives, Bob Bregman and Norman Saks, aka “Yardbird, Inc.” Bird In LA is being previewed today with the release of opener, “Intro Over I Waited For You into How High The Moon (Incomplete).”
As Burton exclaims in the liners, “What follows is, in my opinion, among the most incredible of all Parker recordings, alone worth the purchase of this set. Instead of the rapid unison line ‘Ornithology,’ Gillespie and Bird play the traditional ‘How High the Moon’ theme, but in a call and response fashion that is quite rare in their recorded collaborations. Bird begins his solo with staccato notes that are like the stomping of a foot to get attention before he unleashes a perfectly executed flurry leading into a lyrical solo blown with such strength that one hears the distortion as the home recorder red-lines. At the end of the first chorus Gillespie exhorts “Go, go, go, go!” and Bird takes another chorus before a chorus by Jackson and then a fiery solo by Gillespie, cut short at the end of its first chorus when the cutter ran out of space.”
The first half of Bird In LA also includes recordings from Parker and Gillespie’s performance for the Armed Forces Radio Service “Jubilee” show in December 1945; a compact arrangement of “Salt Peanuts” from NBC’s nationally broadcast variety show, “Drene Time,” sponsored by Proctor and Gamble to promote Drene shampoo; five songs recorded at The Finale Club in Little Tokyo with the Charlie Parker Quintet, featuring Miles Davis and Joe Albany; a blistering version of “Cherokee” recorded for the AFRS “Jubilee” in March or April 1946 with accompaniment of the Nat “King” Cole Trio and Buddy Rich; and with three previously unknown recordings of Bird at The Shrine with Jazz At The Philharmonic. While the performance has been widely panned for being substandard for Parker, it is included here for historical reasons or as Burton explains, “Because they are Bird. Every surviving fragment by this giant should be available for study. Off nights such as the Shrine help us appreciate and understand his greatest achievements all the better.”
The second half of Bird In LA captures two performances from Jirayr Zorthian’s ranch in Altadena: the now infamous July 14, 1952 party where it’s alleged Parker, his bandmates, and most of the audience stripped off their clothes at a rowdy late night gathering at the 27-acre hilltop property located in the foothills above Pasadena, and a second performance two weeks later, with a young 22-year-old Chet Baker on trumpet, in one of his first recordings. Zorthian, an eccentric artist who passed away in 2004 at 92 following a life that included surviving the Armenian genocide as a child and graduating from Yale, loved to talk about that fateful fête.
As he once personally regaled Burton, the party was held on a Monday when the musicians were not working and Bird, who arrived characteristically late, insisted on skinny dipping in the ranch swimming pool before playing. Several songs into the band’s performance, which included spirited version of “A Night In Tunisia” and “Ornithology,” Zorthian yells out “take it off” and Bird obliges, leading to many others to disrobe and making a wild party even wilder. The performance was recorded by the brother of Bird’s friend, the artist Julie McDonald, and it was sourced from Zorthian’s personal second-generation tape recording.
The Zorthian party, along with many of Parker’s other L.A. adventures have been brought to vivid life in Z2 Comics’ innovative graphic novel, “Chasin’ the Bird,” which was released to widespread acclaimed in 2021 in honor of Parker’s 100th birthday. Beautifully told by writer/artist Dave Chisholm and colored by DreamWorks Animation Director Peter Markowski, the novel adapts one of the sunnier, but darker chapters in the life of Bird as it explores Bird’s relationship with the characters and events he encountered during his time in L.A. including recording some of his signature songs, a brief but influential stay at the home of famed jazz photographer William Claxton, and many others who found themselves in the orbit of the jazz genius.
Experienced together, Bird In LA serves as the perfect soundtrack and companion piece to the graphic novel. On its own, the emergence of the rare recordings on Bird In LA represent a major cultural event and a significant addition to the Parker catalog.