By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
The January 28, 1946, concert with Charlie Parker and Lester Young represents JATP at its most profound and uneven. Lester's drummer brother Lee keeps the session swinging like mad, but the overwrought altoist Willie Smith and high-note trumpeter Al Killian are out of their depths. Parker's solo on "Oh, Lady Be Good," a triumph of the blues imagination, is one of his most celebrated and influential, but, after a clubfooted bass solo that goes on for a day and a half, Young stays in the game with a solo that is a phenomenon in its own right so melodic it inspired a song, King Pleasure's "Golden Days." In the absence of jousting pugnacity, the more refined jams don't cohere you succumb to the good parts and suffer or skip the bad ones. Parker was billed below Hawkins and Young (their promised Battle of the Tenors is thoroughly noncombative), but if you think bop was too sophisticated for the clamoring throng, listen to it thunder the first time Granz introduces Bird.
In addition to numerous nonjam sets, ranging from Billie Holiday, in gorgeous voice, to the hilarious Slim Gaillard, who brings down the house every time he announces "Groove Juice Special," the boxed set which looks like a cross between a highway billboard and a Japanese house and demands an altar rather than a CD shelf has many surprises. Hawk, Pres, and Buck Clayton are sublime on "I Surrender Dear." The two tenor mandarins have de facto dueling seconds on "Bugle Call Rag," in Corky Corcoran (a Hawkins man) and Babe Russin (in his Lester period). Even Jacquet calms down in their presence, demonstrating his own mastery with a forthright sprint on "Philharmonic Blues" (he can't resist that Marthalick, though, which on another selection Bill Harris mimics). Dizzy Gillespie is spellbinding on "Crazy Rhythm," as is Mel Powell's virtuoso extension of Teddy Wilson, whose style shapes every pianist on hand except Meade Lux Lewis and Nat Cole, much as Charlie Christian animates all the guitarists, especially Les Paul and Dave Barbour. A 1945 set combines Hawkins, big band sidemen, and an unknown bassist named Charlie Mingus "a recording man around town." "I do hope that we dig you righteously," an announcer says. Hawkins, superb in every appearance, can rouse rabble as well as anyone, but with the tough-guy incisiveness of, say, Bogart. After a weird Buddy Cole intro on "Body and Soul," he spins baroque variations on his variations.
Volume Six is special, despite poor sound and dated spoken commentary, as it collects surviving scraps from a 1946 Carnegie Hall program, including an exceptional Lester Young quartet set. The brightest jewel is a reading of "D.B. Blues" on which he plays two choruses for an even deeper performance than the Aladdin recording. An excerpt from "I Got Rhythm" fades in on Lester playing a superfast interpolation of the usually languid "Blue Lester." Billie Holiday sings "Fine and Mellow" a yawp of recognition follows the first notes with beautiful obbligato by Buck Clayton. Backed only by pianist Bobby Tucker, she tosses off a beguiling 90-second Ethel Watersstyled "You're Driving Me Crazy." Another savory discovery is buried in an otherwise discursive B-flat blues: a dynamic 11-chorus solo by Roy Eldridge that may have been too breakneck and intricate to engender a riot, but is one of the meatiest solos in the whole box.
Still, the biggest payoff of all is a re-creation of the September 1949 Carnegie Hall concert, two and a half hours of music spread over the last three discs, with Parker, Young, Eldridge, an entire set by Hawkins, Oscar Peterson's U.S. debut (backed by Ray Brown), and solo after solo by an ebullient Ella Fitzgerald, whose joy-of-bop scat and spot-on Louis Armstrong impersonation were still new to most of the public. Her radiance is amplified by the astonished delight of the crowd, which by then ought to have suspected that the musical anarchy of the '40s was fading in favor of the precious and the cool, to be reborn half a decade later in a form it could never dig. Yet it may also have gleaned in that intoxicatingly girlish yet assured lady some continuity toward a merrily swinging future.