Friday, August 01, 2014

Celebrating Bird - NYC Jazz Record

Celebrating Bird seems like it was probably one of the easier books Gary Giddins has churned out. At 145 pages, it is a brisk read, especially considering that terrific photos - telegrams to candid family snaps to mid-flight poses of the subject - dot numerous pages. But this book is not so much concerned with the gritty details of hard livings as with depicting what it calls the "triumph of Charlie Parker."

Giddins points out in the acknowledgements that the book was the result of a multimedia collaboration that included a film and a bigger photo spread. It was originally published in 1987 but now exists with a shiny new cover, a few revisions and a new introduction. He states that it was interviews with Parker's first wife Rebecca that captivated him and he sheds a nice amount of light on the early days of the Parker myth. He digs into the birth of Parker's development as a saxophonist as well as the countless weaknesses that took him down at the age of 34.

Giddins paints a vivid cultural portrait of the era, illuminating Parker's role beyond simply jazz history but the limited word count leaves the author no choice but to breeze through numerous incidents with almost a shrug. He sums up Parker's final months with a single, lengthy sentence that includes failed gigs, a suicide attempt, two hospitalizations, alcohol abuse and the crumbling of his last marriage - incidents all worthy of deep analysis. More often that not the book has a look-it-up feel, which is fine if the reader is not already familiar with the story. Of course this book was re-released concurrent with Stanley Crouch's long-gestating first half of a Parker biography that barely climbs out of the subject's teen years despite being twice the length. (Crouch is graciously credited for dumping out a bag of his research for Giddins nearly 30 years ago).

The last quarter of Giddins' book goes heavy on the discography and features an index nearly a tenth the length of the actual text but if the re-release of this book leads to introducing anyone to the jazz legend, it will have succeeded efficiently.

Celebrating Bird @ NYC Jazz Record

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