Charlie Parker – at Jirayr Zorthian’s ranch, july 14th, 1952

Charlie Parker
at Jirayr Zorthian’s ranch, july 14th, 1952
(RLR – 2006)

This release is both an historical curiosity and a musical gem. Jirayr H. Zorthian was a larger-than-life painter and sculptor whose trash-strewn hilltop ranch has played host to hordes of intellectuals, artists, and naked nymphs over the past half-century. He died in 2004, at the age of 92. Celebrities like Charlie Parker and Andy Warhol came to call to his wild parties and fortunately, when Bird attended one of those parties, on July 14, 1952, someone (probably Parker himself and his wife Chan) had the brilliant idea of bringing a tape recording machine.

What we have here, thus, more than a concert or a regular jam session, is a long recorded musical party. The surroundings are the most unusual aspect of these recordings. For instance, a massive strip-tease was performed before and during Bird’s playing of “Embraceable You”. You can hear men and women shouting “take it off’ and even Parker is asked to strip naked.

Although known to exist and mentioned in every serious Parker discography, including the Tom Lord Jazz Discography and the fundamental work by Norman Saks, these live performances have never been issued before in any form.

In musical terms, they mark the only existing recordings of Bird playing with tenor saxophonist Don Wilkerson (who was 21 years old at the time) and alto saxophonist Frank Morgan (who was only 20).

Chet Baker is briefly present on these recordings at Zorthian’s Ranch. He solos on the first (longer) version of “Scrapple from the Apple”. But the main figure is, of course, Bird himself, who sounds fully relaxed (listen to the wonderfully subtle coda solo on “A Night in Tunisia”), and in good humor (he delivers countless quotes, which produce laughter from the audience on hand).

Above all, what becomes apparent when listening to these recordings is Bird’s creativity. He explores the limits of his own style, surrounded by disciples and friends, and creates musical discourses full of beauty and poetry that give further proof of his genius. There is more than an hour of new Bird material here, and that alone makes it worth the price of admission!