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Roll Back by Peter Aaron

Charlie ParkerWashington, DC, 1948
(Uptown Records)

Dizzy GillespieBig Band Showtime at the Spotlite
(Uptown Records)

Gilberto CuppiniJazz in Italy in the ’40s and ’50s
(Riviera Jazz Records)

The bebop revolution had many innovators, but it’s the twin pillars of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie that stand as its chief architects. While Gillespie flirted with mainstream acceptance, by comparison the infamously troubled Parker left us with frustratingly few gratifying studio recordings. But Parker’s artistic legend stems more from his bewildering powers as a live improviser, on his gift for stretching out to deliver endless streams of inspired ideas, most of which today exist only in the mists of aether and the grayed and fading memories of those lucky enough to have seen him play. All of which means that any unearthed scrap of the late saxophonist in performance will get jazz lovers salivating. Washington, DC, 1948 presents Bird in the company of the great Buddy Rich, as well as such DC locals as trombone-playing brothers Earl and Rob Swope. Promoted as “Dixieland vs. Bebop” (tickets: a sky-high $1.80 and $2.40!), the bill features the modernists joining several “moldy fig” stylistic elders on Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues.” It’s the blazing runs through “Ornithology,” “KoKo,” and “Scrapple from the Apple,” however, that really tip the scale.


Showtime at the Spotlite features Parker’s frequent partner Dizzy Gillespie fronting the stellar big band he led from 1945 to 1950. The godlike lineup on this two-CD set boasts Milt Jackson, James Moody, Kenny Clarke, Ray Brown, and Thelonious Monk (a program highlight is the large-scale arrangement of the latter’s “’Round Midnight”). While the Parker disc comes from a rather hammered acetate, the sound of the Gillespie performances is surprisingly strong for a recording made on site by a fan using a primitive portable recorder, and it’s unlikely you’ll find contemporary live versions of the trumpeter’s bop anthems like “Woody ’n You” and “Oo Bop Sh’Bam” to approach the clarity, energy, and ambience here.


In the late 1940s Italy was still crawling out from under Mussolini’s oppressive (to jazz and most everything else) regime and the destruction left in its wake, which accounts for why the rare bebop dates led by drummer Gilberto Cuppini on this installment of Riviera Jazz’s “Jazz in Italy” series (earlier volumes were reviewed in the December 2007-January 2008 issue of Roll) are punctuated by throwback, swing-era material. But the renditions of Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” “Bop-Bop,” and “Manteca” do show that the exciting developments of bop had indeed reached Europe, where they were fast taking hold. While these various Cuppini-led bands tend to approach the new style with a degree of palpable timidity, there are definitely enough transcendent moments—trumpeter Nino Impallomeni’s heated solos on the version of “Salt Peanuts”; the Cuppini showpiece “Drums Be Bop”—to recommend this disc to more than just curious jazz historians. Belgian-born harmonica king Toots Thielemans (Midnight Cowboy soundtrack) even pops up on a 1949 recording of the Ellington staple “Perdido.” Riviera’s chronicling of early Italian jazz is an intriguing and commendable effort, and makes one wonder what obscure treasures lurk in the musical yesteryears of other countries.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie: Uptown Records, 82 Margaret St., Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Gilberto Cuppini:

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