Charlie Parker’s First Recording

Written by

For the past month, I’ve been learning (slowly and with difficulty) Charlie Parker’s Anthropology solo from a track which appeared on a Columbia LP that was recorded live from Birdland, a now defunct New York City jazz spot that was named after Charlie Parker himself. The recording was probably made by the mysterious Bird follower and recording maverick, Dean Benedetti. Captured in lo-fi mono, it’s an amazing performance. Some of Parker’s solo sounds like modern European music.

I’m reminded of his very first recording, done of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose,” done in one of those little booths where you could either have your picture taken with your enamorata or record yourself. Parker recorded the piece in 1940, when he was just 20-years-old and unknown. If you listen closely you’ll hear that he already has his harmonic system in mind, harmonic progressions that would influence jazz forever. Like Bach, Beethoven, and Stravinsky, nobody had ever created music like this before. Charlie Parker is pure genius.

I first heard “Honeysuckle Rose” on a cassette tape that the late Francis Paudras (1935–1997), author of the huge tome To Bird With Love, brought once to KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic around 1982. One day, Parker’s widow, Chan, brought a suitcase of photos, contracts, and memorability to Paudras’ design studio in Paris, asking him what to do with it all. Paudras decided that they should co-author a book out of everything.

BTW, Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 film Round Midnight, starring Dexter Gordon, was based on Francis Paudras’ friendship with jazz pianist Bud Powell.

Bird’s very first recording of Charlie Parker performing “Honeysuckle Rose.”

For you Bird fans, there is a Charlie “Yardbird” Parker Festival taking place in New York City (Charlie Parker got his nickname “Yardbird” later shortened to “Bird” because when traveling on tour he used to jump out of the car and grab chickens whenever he could and the band would eat them.

Banner image of Charlie Parker (Herman Leonard/BBC)

RP Logo