Saturday Night Tunes: Bird at St. Nick’s

You may have noticed that I tend to stick to albums from the late 1950s through the 1960s in this series. That’s partly a personal preference, but not entirely. I’d love to throw in some big band and bebop more often, but the problem is that the earlier you go the more challenging it is to find good albums to write about. You either get albums that are cobbled together from a bunch of different recording sessions, so they’re really more like a “greatest hits” collection than a cohesive album, or you can’t find enough tracks off of any one particular album online, and always you’ve got to worry about the quality of the recording, whether you’re talking about a live album or a studio one.

This week I decided to try anyway, and I saw my copy of Bird at St. Nick’s on the shelf and figured that was as good a bebop album as any. That’s not a cop-out, it’s literally true; this 1950 live recording is some of the best bebop you’ll find anywhere. It is, however, a live recording from 1950, and it’s got all the bugs you’d expect to find in a live recording from 1950: you can hear a lot of crowd noise, plenty of audio imperfections, and you’ll strain to hear all the performers at times. But if you can look past those issues, it’s a wonderful album, and even if you can’t it’s still a neat relic of the times and a sign of how far the technology has come. I’ll see if I can get some Parker studio work on the agenda for next week.

The good news is that I found an entire YouTube playlist that includes all 13 tracks from the album. The bad news is that I don’t know how to divvy these up into individual tracks, if that’s even possible, so I had to embed the entire playlist. Rather than talk about the individual tunes and delay getting to the music, I’ll just note the highlights, which for me are the Parker originals (especially his real classics like “Ornithology,” “Scrapple from the Apple,” and “Now’s the Time”), Tadd Dameron’s excellent “Hot House,” and the standard “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” which showcases how great Parker’s sound was even when he wasn’t blazing through a tune at his usual pace.

Along with Parker you’ll hear Red Rodney on trumpet, Al Haig on piano, Tommy Potter on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums.


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