Chasin’ the Bird: BARRY HARRIS Trio
Barry Harris (p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Clifford Jarvis (drs)
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City; May, 1962
1. Chasin’ the Bird (5:32) (Charlie Parker)
2. The Breeze and I (4:14) (Stillman – Lecuono)
3. Around the Corner (3:01) (Barry Harris)
4. Just As Though You Were Here (3:38) (DeLange- Brooks)
5. Indiana (2:54) (MacDonald – Hanley)
1. Stay Right With It (5:12) (Barry Harris)
2. ‘Round Midnight (5:22) (Thelonious Monk)
3. Bish, Bash, Bosh (4:32) (Barry Harris)
4. The Way You Look Tonight (4:55) (Fields – Kern)
“Chasin’ the Bird” is not only a song title and, in this particular instance, an album title; it is also an activity that has been indulged in by a great many jazz musicians during most of the past two decades. Ever since Bird’s first flight, many have been chasing him – often to their benefit (for there was, and still is, a tremendous amount to be learned from, the music of Charlie Parker) but sometimes to their disadvantage (for a too powerful influence can lead to a paralyzing of the creativity of the influenced musician, and to mere imitation). To Barry Harris’ credit, he has never been one of those who have hung Parker around their neck like an albatross. On the contrary, he ranks as one who has been able to capture the essence of Parker’s language and his then proceeded to talk most eloquently for himself. This Harris trio album is best described as the latest demonstration of that eloquence.
I might seem unusual to place this much stress on Parker in relation to a pianist’s album, but it really is not at all so. True, the most direct object of his influence was and is other saxophonists. But the shadow cast by Bird’s wingspread from the time he first became prominent on 52nd Street in the mid-1940s unquestionably reached out to cover performers on other horns and men in the rhythm section as well.
It might also seem unusual not to stress the influence of Bud Powell on Harris. This is not a matter of avoiding the fact that Barry is a stylistic descendant of Powell; it’s simply that this point has been made many times before now. This writer has done so, often. Actually, the two names of those two giants ought not to be unduly separated from each other here. For anyone influenced by Powell had to be Parker-influenced too, because Bud himself was strongly shaped by him.
In Harris’ case, then, the line of descent is a two pronged one, inasmuch as he absorbed much of Bird’s message directly from Charlie. This does not mean that Barry is one of those who claim to have worked with Parker and learned the Truth as a disciple at the master’s feet. (For one thing, Harris is a bit too young for that, being only in his early thirties, although his prematurely fraying hair and his reputation as the teacher and spiritual gather of a whole host of young Detroit-bred musicians tends to make people think of him as much older than he really is.) Barry is quite specific about having sat in with Parker for one set on one night only, back in Detroit – although he does count that set among his most memorable experiences. It is, rather, that Barry learned fluently that new language that Parker brought to jazz. More than that, he made himself familiar with the whole musical literature that grew out of the Parker school. Today he stands as a representative of this area of jazz expression in its pure form, uncorrupted by the obvious or the exaggerated.
As for a more direct use of Bird’s music, Harris has previously recorded Parker’s Moose the Mooche and the Parker-Gillespie collaboration, Anthropology. This album’s example, Chasin’ the Bird, which is perhaps the most striking track here, is one that Bird originally recorded with Miles Davis in the late ‘40s. It is based on the I Got Rhythm chord sequence, but its contrapuntal theme, which at the time was something new for jazz, makes it much more than merely another of the many tunes from that period based on the Gershwin standard. The parts first played by Parker and Davis are taken, respectively, by Barry’s right and left hands. The clarity of his articulation makes both lines stand out at the same time as they are being skillfully integrated.
It is not my intention to overdo the “influence” approach, but when dealing with as fascinatingly intelligent an absorber and transmuter as Barry, it is difficult to avoid being magnetized by the references to others, and I think also that it is interesting to trace them down. Specific references to Powell are discernible here: the Un Poco Loco format in the “blowing portion of The Breeze and I; the ending of Bish, Bash, Bosh, which contains something of Bud’s coda to Yesterdays; a spirit reminiscent to me of Powell’s album “The Scene Changes” in the line of the original that Barry has titled Stay Right With It; and the closeness in tempo and feeling of Indiana to the version Powell made in about 1949.
In the notes to Barry’s album of unaccompanied solos (“Listen to Barry Harris”) I wrote of still another factor: “certainly Art (Tatum) excited an influence on the young Harris … Of course Powell himself comes from Tatum, and therefore Barry comes from Tatum from two directions.” In the present set, Barry’s debt to Tatum shows up in the opening and closing sections of the ballad Just As Though You Were Here, where he plays without the aid of the rhythm section.
Out of all this, as I hope I have been making clear throughout, there definitely emerges a whole which is different from these various parts and strongly flavored by that which is uniquely and personally Barry’s own. In bringing this to the listener in this particular instance, Barry has the valuable assistance of Bob Cranshaw and Clifford Jarvis, whose accompaniment of Harris has the benefit not only of skill, but also of their strong and evident affection and empathy for the pianist. While both are accomplished soloists (Bob, who has beenwith Sonny Rollins and most recently with Junior Mance, is heard on Stay Right With It and Bish, Bash, Bosh; Cliff has exchanges with Barry on Indiana and The Way You Look Tonight), their main function here is as supporting players. This assignment they carry out with great sensitivity. Listen, for example, to Jarvis’ cymbal and foot accents behind Harris’ strongly-melodic, following lines on the last-named tune.
The pianist’s other Riverside albums include –
Newer Than New: Barry Harris Quintet (RLP 413; Stereo 9413)
Listen to Barry Harris (solo piano) (RLP 392; Stereo 9392)
Preminado: Barry Harris Trio (RLP 354; Stereo 9354)
Barry Harris at The Jazz Workshop (RLP 326; Stereo 1177)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photo by LAWRENCE SHUSTAK
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
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