Phoenix Jazz Club salutes Charlie Parker with Charles McPherson


Speaking to Charles McPherson, it’s pretty clear why Lewis Nash immediately thought of McPherson as he gathered musicians to celebrate Charlie Parker’s legacy as part of The Nash’s ninth anniversary weekend.

And that goes beyond the fact that he plays the alto saxophone, Parker’s main instrument. Or that Clint Eastwood brought him in to help flesh out the music for his Parker biopic, “Bird” from 1988.

Jazz musicians have been celebrating the centenary of Parker (he was born August 29, 1920 and died March 12, 1955) for a year.

McPherson speaks of Parker with the passion of a true believer.

Asked about the impact the bebop legend had on his own life as an alto saxophonist playing jazz, McPherson’s first reaction is to say that this is not about how Parker’s music inspired him.

“It really should be shouted from the highest peak of the mountain, that Charlie Parker’s influence is not just the viola, not just the saxophone,” McPherson said.

“His influence since probably around 1940 has been on all jazz instruments.”

Nash, the Phoenix-born drummer who gave the downtown Phoenix Jazz Club its name, says much the same in response to a question about what Parker means to jazz musicians.

“I’ll say it right off the bat. Charlie Parker affected the way every jazz instrumentalist plays, not just saxophonists. He affected the way everyone thought about rhythm, phrasing, technique, everything. He was one of the giants of the giants in this music. “

Charlie Parker’s influence goes beyond jazz

And this impact extends far beyond the borders of jazz.

“The world knows Quincy Jones as a producer who’s recorded stuff for Michael Jackson and a rock’n’roll or rhythm & blues band, Will Smith, whatever,” McPherson said.

“Before all that, he was a trumpeter who wanted to play like Charlie Parker.”

On the occasion of Charlie Parker's return to 52nd Street in 1947,

This influence shaped the way Jones approached arranging songs that wouldn’t make a casual listener think that jazz had anything to do with the equation.

“Even when you’re arranging pop music for someone like Michael Jackson, the white noise in Quincy Jones’ mind is Charlie Parker and it goes through his head all the time,” McPherson says.

“It’s the same with Neil Hefti and so many great arrangers. He influenced everyone. And the reason he was so influential was because he was so good at so many things.”

Among these many things, of course, was playing the saxophone.

He had the technique of a virtuoso but the magic of his music went beyond technique.

“He could portray all the emotions that humans feel,” McPherson says. “He could play so fast, the notes would be blurry. Or he could play so slowly and so beautiful, it would make people cry.”

This virtuosity prevailed regardless of the type of music he played, from blues to Afro-Cuban jazz, from the Great American Songbook to salsa or the bebop jazz school he pioneered so much.

“He had the perfect combination of inspiration and technique,” ​​says McPherson. “And when the left brain and the right brain hold hands, you have genius.”

McPherson didn’t know Parker when he first started acting

Charles McPherson

McPherson started playing alto saxophone at age 13, after starting his musical journey on trumpet and bugle in college it had nothing to do with thinking Charlie Parker was a genius.

“I didn’t know anything about Charlie Parker when I was 12 and 13,” he says.

“I didn’t know much about jazz music, to tell you the truth.”

However, he has vivid memories of his first exposure to music.

A kid at school had told him about Parker, so he recognized the name when he stumbled across a song called “Tico Tico” on the jukebox of a Detroit candy store.

“I said, ‘Oh, Charlie Parker! This is the man my friend told me about!'” McPherson recalls. “So I put my money in the jukebox. And from that moment – and I’m 13, maybe 14 – I knew exactly that this cat was wonderful.”

At that time, he had no real understanding of the music theory that made it possible to do something so wonderful.

“But even at this young age, what stands out is that he was playing all those long sentences and I could hear how he was connecting them,” says McPherson.

“And I had a feel for the melodic logic as this man played those long elegant musical phrases that connect to each other seamlessly. I had heard other musicians play a lot of notes. But I hadn’t had to. never heard the logic in it. And that’s what stood out. At that point, I knew this person was really special. “

Charles McPherson

McPherson would, of course, learn that what music made him feel that day was not uncommon.

“That feeling I had about the meaning that everything had, every musician on planet Earth during the time, when they heard Charlie Parker, was the thing that stuck with them,” McPherson says.

Eastwood shared with McPherson the story of the first time he heard Parker play.

It was in the late 1940s and Eastwood went to a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert to see Lester Young on a bill which also starred Parker.

“He had heard of Bird, but he had never heard it in person,” said McPherson.

He said, ‘When I saw Charlie Parker, authority, control, and total mastery of what he was doing, you could cut him with a knife. And from that moment on, I knew exactly what kind of attitude I had to bring to the film. “

McPherson was a logical choice for The Nash celebration

McPherson moved from Detroit to New York in 1959. In 1960 he was playing the saxophone for another jazz legend whose outlook on music was shaped in part by listening to Parker, Charles Mingus.

He was in Mingus’ band, on and off, until 1972, when he had long established himself as a full-fledged recording artist, having kicked off his recording with “Bebop Revisited!” from 1964!

Jazz Times columnist Mark Stryker praised him “one of the most powerful musicians to emerge from the cauldron of mid-century bebop in Detroit.”

Nash has shared many scenes with McPherson over the years, although this is the saxophonist’s first time at The Nash.

“Charles has a very personal and identifiable sound, which is very engaging and original,” says Nash.

“It appeals to you. If a musician is able to start with an engaging sound, you have already set the stage for the listener to take the next step, which is to listen to what your ideas are and what your levels are. musical sense is. “

From there, says Nash, what strikes you is the clarity with which McPherson executes his musical ideas.

“When he thinks of ideas improvised on the spot, improvising, they come out as if they have the wholeness of someone sitting down with pen and paper to compose them and think about what they want. write, “Nash said.

McPherson assembled a quintet for his Nash Anniversary Weekend performance, featuring trumpeter Terell Stafford, Nash on drums, Peter Washington on bass, and Bruce Barth on piano.

In addition to greeting Parker, the quintet will share a few samples from McPherson’s latest album, “Jazz Dance Suites”.

“The focus is on Charlie Parker,” says Nash.

“But I think we would be remiss if we didn’t familiarize the public with today’s Charles McPherson and what he does.”

Nash’s birthday celebration kicks off on Friday, November 5 with a sold-out party for 50 guests overlooking the downtown skyline with the Terell Stafford-Lewis Nash Quartet.

McPherson joins the celebration on Saturday for two shows at the Nash.

Stafford will headline Sunday’s concert with the 17 musicians of the SCC Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Eric Rasmussen, and a small ensemble.

Nash’s birthday weekend

The Charles McPherson Quintet: 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. on Saturday, November 6. $ 60- $ 90.

Terell Stafford and the SCC Jazz Orchestra: 7:30 p.m. Sunday November 7. $ 16 to $ 40

Details: 110 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix. 602-795-0464,

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Follow him on twitter @EdMasley.

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