Friday: WUSF’s “Jazz Club Friday” Goes North of the Border

Charlie Parker at Massey Hall. An improbable series of events led to this band being assembled for a once-in-a-lifetime concert. The original version of this album cover used the name “Charlie Chan” instead of Charlie Parker, to avoid contractual issues.

Tonight (FRIDAY) on All Night Jazz it’s Jazz Club Friday, with more music recorded in concert north of the border with David “Fathead” Newman, pianist Hiromi and more all caught in concert in Canada. Mike Cornette has more:

Friday, we’ll hear music recorded at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver plus we’ll revisit Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall, the site of the famous concert by “The Quintet,” featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.

The Quintet converged at Massey Hall in Toronto on May 15, 1953. Massey Hall was founded in 1892 and still stands as one of Toronto’s most important entertainment venues.

After the early hey-days of the bebop movement there was some animosity between Parker and Gillespie. Gillespie, ever the showman and also someone who knew how to work the media, had eclipsed Parker in popularity.

At least that was how Parker perceived it.

He actually referred to Gillespie as his “worthy constituent” during the concert. Parker’s stature wasn’t aided by his nearly insatiable addictions to drugs and alcohol.

It was no surprise that Charlie Parker showed up without a horn – he often hocked his own – so a white, plastic alto was located for Bird. Pianist Lennie Tristano was originally booked for the gig but he demurred and recommended

Bud Powell, fresh from the hospital after a mental breakdown.

He was allegedly stone drunk and had to be helped to the piano, but played brilliantly.

Bassist Oscar Pettiford was also initially proposed, but had recently broken his arm and suggested Charles Mingus instead.

The show at Massey Hall was also booked the same night as a famous boxing match between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott.

For what ended up being one of the most famous jazz concerts of all time, only 750 people showed up to the 2500 seat venue.

During the first set Gillespie left the stage several times to check the fight’s progress on a backstage radio (Marciano won).

There was an intermission. Cocktails were served at a local bar across the street.

The promoters had to hound the audience back to the hall for the second half of the show….and Bird and Diz burned the house down.

Bassist Mingus recorded the show, controlling the volume with an on stage foot pedal which used to raise the audio on all of his solos (many of which he overdubbed later).

In the end, the box office receipts proved to be short.

Parker forced the promoters to write personal checks just to cover the guarantees. All of the checks, with the exception of Parker’s, bounced so the musicians were never paid.

Impresario Norman Granz wanted to release Mingus’ recording on his Clef recording label (which later evolved into Verve), but Parker demanded a $100,000 advance against future royalties. No deal was made.

Mingus later released it on his own Debut label using the pseudonym Charlie Chan for Parker to avoid any legal hassles.

Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano later wrote a song called “Charlie Chan” to commemorate it.

At the time, the show received mediocre reviews from the local press. The recording itself was bootlegged multiple times before landing in the Fantasy-Prestige- Milestone catalog.

It was the last time Parker and Gillespie recorded together. Parker died two years later.

Despite these many impediments the concert, from what became known as “The Quintet,” has been called immensely influential by many and cited as one of the greatest of all time.


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