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Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes

4.5 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Audio CD, January 24, 1995
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Compared to his other albums, Bird's improvisations here are more distilled and economical; at the same time, he's never been more clear-headed than this (it's no wonder Parker himself named this record as his personal favorite)! The lush string arrangements and rhythm section's delicate swing intertwine on Just Friends; Everything Happens to Me; April in Paris; Summertime; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; If I Should Lose You; Dancing in the Dark; Out of Nowhere; Laura; They Can't Take That Away from Me; Easy to Love; I'm in the Mood for Love; I'll Remember April; Easy to Love; Autumn in New York , and more. 24 tracks in all!

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Charlie Parker welcomed the opportunity to record standards with a small string ensemble in 1949, and the results are stunning, his liquid alto soaring over the tuneful and only occasionally stiff arrangements. Along the way, he invests tunes like "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "Laura" with a unique blend of bluesy realism and mercurial improvisation. The CD adds live versions from a Carnegie Hall concert, and there are also two brilliant versions of Neal Hefti's "Repetition." The 1947 version has Bird flying spontaneously over the dense orchestration of horns, strings, and Latin percussion. --Stuart Broomer
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (January 24, 1995)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Verve
  • ASIN: B0000046WK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,168 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael P. Beck on October 19, 2005
Format: Audio CD
This album is very important in that it shows Bird's ability to lead a large ensemble, albeit an ensemble playing relatively standard arrangements, and it demonstrates Bird's unparalleled ability with improvisation, unmatched to this day. Since this orchestra was not really pushing Bird to further heights via reharmonizations, comping chords or frantic solos, Bird had to create his improvisations all on his own, without a Dizzy or Bud Powell to play off of. And this he does with alarming precision, as the first bars of 'Just Friends' will attest to- he probably suggests 7 or 8 chord changes within 10 seconds and over essentially a 3 chord opening sequence.

Bird himself was overjoyed to work with a string ensemble, as he felt that it would lend credibility to his status as a serious musician, even though by the time this was recorded he has already produced works that would put him easily in the top 5 of 20th century musicians along with Stravinsky and Louis Armstrong. As amazing as Bird was, it's important to note that he really only worked within two song forms, blues and popular song standards like 'Cherokee' and 'How High the Moon', which he put his own indelible stamp upon. It is for this reason that I find this album so important beyond just enjoying the music, as it demonstrates a massive extension to Bird's repertoire, which before this was limited primarily to smaller groups, not including his sideman work with Jay McShann and Billy Eckstein. Had he lived longer, he would have undoubtedly ventured into modern classical music, as he was hoping to collaborate with Edgar Varese through formal instruction.

I think I was most surprised upon hearing this album for the first time that it was considered a sell-out commercial farce upon its release. Yeah- you could really see today's commercial music populous being interested in this album. This is complex, harrowing music and is romantic as all hell. Anyone could appreciate this if given the chance.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
What Parker did on this album isn't so different from what Miles Davis and Gil Evans did years later with "Sketches of Spain"- and come to think of it, that album was panned by critics who couldn't understand it, either.
When the string intros start up, the casual listener might assume that this album sisn't terribly different from the easy-listening music that pours of of elevators and "mellow jazz" radio stations that it's easy to ignore it. But there's something much more complex going on; Parker has created something very rare here; he's taken a music form that few really listened to and framed it in a way that made it more accessible while not compromising his musicality in any way. This isn't the boring and innoffensive harmonies of a Kenny G.; this is Charlie Parker, and he's playing for all it's worth. And it comes through.
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Format: Audio CD
I just had to write a few words about this record. It is absolutelly beautiful... This is my favorite Jazz album (along with Brubeck's Time Out) and every time I listen to it is like meeting an old friend.

This CD comprises a 10" LP called "Charlie Parker with Strings", another LP called "Jazz Concert" and an EP called "Charlie Parker With Strings" (not related to the first one). So it contains recordings made in 1947 (only the last track), 1949, 1950 and 1952.

The music... pure genius. Here, Bird plays only standards. But when he plays them, all standards look like they were written just for Charlie. It looks like they were waiting to be played by him all along. Like no one else have ever played them before. He comes and goes, he improvises, he returns.. and he never gets too far... and he never gets too literal.

My favorite tracks are "Just Friends" (played with an eloquence seldon seen on any version of this song), "Laura" (simply the best version of this song ever played), "April in Paris" (in this cd you get TWO versions), "I didn't Know what Time It Was" and "I'm in the Mood for Love".

Listening to this record once more, I get to see how this troubled musician was capable of such beautiful feelings. And indeed he was a man of feelings.

But there is more. The orchestration is clear and quick to respond (the kind of orchestras we only see in the 50's). If there are records where everything is right... look no further. This is it.

It is also worth mentioning that these recordings were produced by a legend among Jazz producers: Norman Granz (if you are reading this, you probably know him already from other classic Jazz recordings).

Plus: the CD comes with new linear notes and nice reproductions of the original ones.
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99.9% of Charlie Parker's record catalogue is free from string arrangements. Only two volumes of original vinyl titled "Charlie Parker with Strings" contain string arrangements. Yet some critics, even on this site, have registered their dismay and dislike for Bird accompanied by strings. Lest we forget, this material was recorded over sixty years ago. Why would anyone purchase a CD titled, "Charlie Parker with Strings" if they disliked the artist playing material accompanied by strings?

Others have responded, as a counterpoint, that Charlie publicly praised this album and stated this was one of his favorites. These comments are sometimes referenced to defend the artistic credentials of the project. Specifically, that Charlie Parker was not posturing to blatant commercial appeal at the expense of his true higher calling, Bebop. Secondly, that Producer, Norman Grantz, did not maintain a sinister plan to exploit Bird's talent for short term commercial gain.

There are always three sides to every story, your, mine and the cold hard truth. Charlie respected and admired Norman Grantz's professional instincts. Mr. Grantz, who produced the string project, had an uncanny ability to successfully "mix and match" artists, venues, tours and record dates. Case in point is the wildly success (financially and critically) "Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP)" series.

His vision for the string project, featured Bird playing American Standards with straight ahead chart arrangements, supported by some of the best jazz artists in the business. These musicians, used on the three separate studio dates, included Ray Brown, Al Haig, Buddy Rich, Tommy Potter, Roy Haynes and Shelly Manne. He also enlisted the legendary Skitch Henderson to handle the full orchestra and string arrangements.
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