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The Last Bebop Concert, Birdland June 30, 1950
Let's take a look at a famous and discussed all-stars session, which is usually dated as June 30, 1950 at Birdland in New York.
We'll focus on the last part of the existing audience recording, during which a second trumpet joins the ensemble.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the music and some wrong informations still circulate.
So it may be worth enough sheding some light on what really happens.
The ensemble has Miles Davis on trumpet, J.J.Johnson on trombone, Milton Moore on tenor saxophone, Tadd Dameron on piano, Curley Russell on bass and Art Blakey on drums.
This is the ensemble playing the first of the tunes we'll examine.
This is a composition by Tadd Dameron, based on the harmony of What Is This Thing Called Love, with an AABA 32 bars structure.
The existing recording is incomplete, missing the theme and perhaps nearly half of Miles solo.
We hear Miles from near the half of his penultimate chorus, entering the B section and then completing the chorus
and then we hear last Miles chorus starting with a pickup on the last bar of previous chorus and ending on the first bar of the following one
After three chorus of tenor sax solo, followed by three chorus of trombone solo, we hear a second trumpet (usually identified with Fats Navarro) playing a very long solo (five chorus). (In my opinion a wonderful solo).
Maybe he isn't in ideal microphone range, but the tonal quality is definitely weak, flebile.
Here is his first chorus (the first note is the ending of trombone solo)
Let's focus on a small phrase that occurs many times, identical or imitated: bars 3-4 and bar 5 (first A section) , bar 15 (second A section) and bar 25 (last A section)
And even if we listen second chorus we find something similar in bars 14-15 (second A section) , in bars 25-26 , and in bars 31-32 (last A section)
Even in third, fourth and fifth chorus you can find similar gestures.
After one chorus of piano solo played by Tadd Dameron (here is the end of his chorus, with his unmistakable playing), we hear again this second trumpet playing during exchanges before out theme, starting on the bridge and playing four bars ; this definitely isn't Miles Davis; it is much more similar to bridges played by second trumpet, for example the bridge of the fifth chorus
This becomes more evident if we compare this fragment from bridge of the fifth chorus with this fragment from bridge of exchanges
The second trumpet player in effect is Fats Navarro, who will die of tubercolosis on July 7, few days after this recording.
He's nearly unrecognizeable here, but with some effort we find fingerprints.
Compare the way he plays on Cool Blues, more than one month earlier, presumably on Maj 17, same place, with Charlie Parker with these fragments from Hot House, in his first , fourth and fifth chorus .
Hot House is clearly the end of a set, followed by the standard 52nd Street Theme statement.
This is based on a composition by George Shearing, although here the structure is a bit different.
It's the same as Conception as recorded on February 18, 1950 by Miles Davis sextet, with Tadd Dameron on piano.
The structure of the chorus for improvising should be AABA with 14-bars A section and 8-bars B section.
On theme statement first two A sections are 12 bars each, but this is not important here.
The existing recording starts on the last 4 bars of second A sections.
Miles improvises on the 8-bars bridge and then he plays the 14-bars A section.
Let's focus our attention on the 8-bars bridge because the second half of the bridge (bars 5-8) is a good bookmark, with its chromatically descending chord progression .
When you catch it you know where you are, so you can't get lost.
This is very important because on all AABA structures there is always the risk of loose the correct form, expecially if we don't think of the form as A1 A2 B A3, as it should always be. When you catch the bridge you can recover the form.
Let's listen to the last A section of theme before Miles solo. : the first six bars and then the pedal resolving in exactly 8 bars (last bar is played as a break to Miles solo)
The A section lasts 14 bars, and it is easily recognizable from its pedal, starting on bar 7.
When you catch the pedal you have just to count for exactly 8 bars and the A section ends.
We may think of the A section as it is formed by a 6-bars sub-section, followed by an 8-bars sub-section (pedal with resolution).
Miles plays exactly four chorus on AABA form (50 bars).
Then we hear the second trumpet, Fats Navarro, playing:
- one chorus on AABA form (50 bars) (the first phrase, just a bar, is the ending of Miles solo)
- two chorus on ABA form (36 bars)
- another chorus on AABA form (50 bars)
If we listen to first chorus, we find this fragment, in bars 8-9 (pedal inside A section) the same we heard in Hot House, second chorus, bars 14-15 (second A section)
After that the pianist plays exactly four chorus on AABA form.
Walter Bishop is well recognizeable here if we compare with the way he opens his solo on She Rote, take 3, recorded with Charlie Parker on January 17, 1951.
Miles is well hearable playing something under during the second A section of last Bishop chorus, and during last A section too, so everybody knows where he is, but Miles enters playing an extra A section, something like an AAABA form (64 bars) before stating the out theme (46 bars with a coda) where he improvises on the bridge like in the opening theme.
This is a composition credited to Sadim Hakim (Argonne Thornton), again based on an AABA 32 bars structure.
After a short piano intro we hear theme with bridge improvised by trombone, then Miles plays three chorus, and the same does J.J. Johnson and Fats Navarro after him.
In first Fats chorus we hear the same as we heard in Hot House, second chorus, bars 14-15 (second A section) and in Conception, first chorus, bars 8-9 (pedal inside A section)
After Fats Navarro, even Brew Moore plays three chorus, then Walter Bishop plays four chorus (we recognize him if we compare with the way he end his solo on Star Eyes, recorded with Charlie Parker on January 17, 1951. ).
At last we hear out theme: here is Fats Navarro playing on the bridge , well recognizeable if we compare this bridge fragment with this quite identical played in the first chorus of his solo .
52nd Street Theme
The set closer, again an AABA 32 bars structure, composed by Thelonious Monk.
It's Fats Navarro the one who plays the bridge in open theme
We recognize him comparing this fragment with what he plays on the bridge during his only complete chorus (existing recording fades at the beginning of his second chorus).
The first soloist is Miles who plays three chorus, then J.J. Johnson plays two, and then we hear only one complete chorus by Fats Navarro , the last music we have from him, during which he plays again the same phrase, at the end of the first A section and at the end of the second A section .
On piano is still Walter Bishop: here he comps Miles same comping as the intro of K.C. Blues , recorded with Charlie Parker on January 17, 1951.
List of referenced discography:
- Charlie Parker: One Night In Birdland (Sony Records SRCS 7111/2)
- Miles Davis: The last bebop session (Jazz Music Yesterday JMY ME 6401)
- Bird: Complete Charlie Parker on Verve
Complete transcriptions of referenced Miles Davis and Fats Navarro solos are available on themusicofmiles