Weekly Post February 9th, 2020

Bird & Diz, Town Hall, NYC, June 22nd, 1945

On February 9, 1946, Dizzy Gillespie and his band flew back to NYC following a 10 week engagement at Billy Berg’s in LA. Charlie Parker cashed in his plane ticket and stayed behind. It’s often said that Bird was left “stranded” in California, and at least one biographer claims he spent the proceeds on heroin, which is impossible to know. Generally speaking, any amount of money in Bird’s possession would be gone in a matter of hours. But there is a tendency to view his actions as self-destructive by default, and his condition a state of self-inflicted victimhood. (This notion was carried to an extreme in Clint Eastwood’s cinematic travesty, Bird.) By all accounts, Bird was a forceful personality. His wife, Chan, described him as the strongest person she ever knew. So it’s reasonable to seek other explanations for his decision to stay.

Bird’s relationship with Dizzy is too complex to sum up, but it’s safe to assume that by 1946 Bird was tired of being a sideman in Dizzy’s band, or anyone else’s, for that matter. He had spent his early career in big bands, within the confines of saxophone sections, and he’d been a sideman on most 52nd St. gigs, as well. So he was highly motivated to form a small group of his own, as he acknowledged in later interviews.

Therefore it doesn’t seem far-fetched that, from Bird’s point of view, staying in California was the most expedient way to separate himself from Dizzy. In some respects, the scene on 52nd St. and in Harlem was too insular to make that process easy. So, despite his contention that West Coast audiences hated his music, the scene there offered him a fresh start with a pool of jazz players who were already adopting the new musical language.
By the end of February, 1946, Bird had signed a one-year recording contract with Dial Records, and by March he was leading his own quintet at the Finale Club in LA. The recording session for Dial on March 28th, his second as a leader, documented some of his most disciplined playing, composing, and arranging. So at that point, it seemed that staying in LA had been the right choice.

However, all was not well. His dependence on heroin was at a high point, while his access to it was approaching a low point. By July, his addictions would lead to catastrophe. But that’s another story entirely.

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