Jazz Institute of Chicago

Bird Stories

Bird Stories
as recalled by Richard Corpolongo

Joe Daley told me this story.
In the late '40s Bird and Miles were playing at a club in Chicago called the Argyle Lounge. Bird didn't make his drug connection and was too sick to play. He told Miles to talk to the owner and explain that his sickness prevented him from making the gig. The owner told Miles that if Bird didn't play that night he would never hire the quintet again.

Miles came back to Bird—in the toilet at the time—and told him the bad news, that he had to play or else. Bird was so pissed that he took his alto, (which actually belonged to someone else), and pulled all the key rods off the body and came out of the toilet and showed Miles the messed up horn. Bird and Miles went to the owner and said, "See, the horn is damaged, it is impossible to play tonight." The owner was hip to Bird's antics and said, "Oh, that's OK Bird, I have another alto in the liquor closet."

Eddie Harris told me this one.
It took place at the old Bee Hive lounge in Hyde Park, in Chicago, around 1949. Bird would often ask the musicians in the house if they wanted to sit in with him. This night a lot of musicians were in attendance because their gigs were finished and they all wanted to hear Bird. Bird asked if anyone would want to play. All the players looked at each other to see who would be man enough to play with Bird. There was a dead silence in the room because everyone was afraid to tackle this monster.

Eddie too, was not comfortible with the fact of sitting in. As he thought about it more and more, he realized that this would be the oppurtunity of a lifetime. Since he was only 16 at the time, he knew that he would probably never play with Bird again so why not do it. He took his tenor saxophone out and walked up to the stage. Bird was kneeling by the drums and asked Ed what tune would he like to play. Ed thought awhile and realized that he practiced the tune "Scapple From The Apple" all week and knew the tune inside and out, so he told Bird the choice. Bird lifted he alto up to his mouth and without counting off the tempo started playing the tune. Ed was momentarily cut off guard by the abruptness of the start but picked up the melody in the second measure, knowing full well that he knew the tune inside and out.

As he started playing he realized that Bird was not playing in the same key that was on the record. Even the piano player was momentarily shaken by the change in key but found it within the first eight bars. With every fiber of his existence Ed tried to figure out what key Bird was playing in and felt like a fool trying to cover up. He quietly walked off the stage with his tenor between his legs realizing the extent of Bird's genius. He learned that night that whenever Bird was sick from not taking his medicine he sometimes would play his original tunes in different keys.

Bird was able to play any tune or melody in any key no matter how difficult that melody is and play without any preparation. It so happened that Bird that night was feeling sickly which gave the younger players more confidence to play with him. Ed realized that Bird could play any tune wherever his fingers would lay on the horn. Ed said that he realized that night that Bird was not just as monster but a once in a century genius like Mozart.

Copyright ©2003. All rights reserved.

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