There is much evidence of Bird’s extensive vocabulary and his love of wordplay, but he left behind almost no writings, aside from his many telegrams to Chan, which are a story unto themselves. So the long letter he wrote on Saturday, May 22nd, 1954, is one of the very few we have. Unfortunately, it’s a rebuttal to charges brought by Jack Tucker, the manager of the Tiffany Club in Los Angeles, where Bird was working the week Pree died. As such, Bird’s tone is matter-of-fact and understandably humorless, but he expresses himself clearly in long, well-constructed sentences interspersed with short, concise ones, which give his paragraphs a strong underlying rhythm. Jack Tucker’s writings, which are italicized, have a tone of undisguised contempt and are artless in their construction, as though pure outrage compelled him to set them down in a mad rush. He uses commas in unorthodox ways that border on anarchy.
I have integrated the two letters so that Tucker’s specific charges are followed by Bird’s specific rebuttals. In my opinion, there is plenty of blame on both sides, but you can be the judge. I confess, though, that I am haunted by one question: why didn’t Bird just tell Tucker to go to hell and fly back to New York to be with Chan and Pree? It’s certainly true that he desperately needed the money and there would have been serious repercussions with the Gale Agency had he quit, but even so. Be that as it may, I will now let Bird and Tucker battle it out.
Tucker [in cover letter to Gale Agency]: Dear Joe: Happy you took the interest to write me. I certainly had a time with Mr. Parker. Had to cancel him twice. The enclosed copy of my letter to Mr. Leo Cluesman is in detail so you can know all. I want you to know that these were miserable days and costly. Please verify all facts in my letter with Al Hibbler & Charles Carpenter, Jimmy Lewis or anyone who might know. I did not know of the passing of Mr. Parker’s daughter but I want you to realize that by Wednesday I had cancelled Mr. Parker for the second time and that according to your letter, the child passed away that Friday. Also be advised that Mr. Parker, according to Messrs. Carpenter, Lewis & Hibbler and total personnel [?], kept three rooms going at the hotel with hot running women, liquor and what not right up until Saturday.
Tucker [in letter of complaint to Leo Cluesman, secretary, America Federation of Musicians]: That evening [March 1st] Mr. Parker appeared but would not sign his contract until the Union official, Mr. Elmer Fain, demanded it. I also had on my bill, Al Hibbler, so I asked Mr. Parker to play 25 minutes. Mr. Parker was to leave the stand so that Al Hibbler could sing 15 minutes with the trio, rounding out the trio’s 40 minutes. Mr. Parker played two sets and left the club about 11 o’clock and didn’t return. I have a policy, $1.25 per person admission. I had to make refunds the balance of the evening and also turn away people who would not come in when they found out Charlie Parker was not appearing. I also had to try to cancel ads.
Bird: I opened the Tiffany club as per contract on Monday night, March 1st, 1954, and performed as per contract up to about 11 p.m. and at that time, I left the Club during intermission to get a sandwich, and also to make a long distance call to my wife in New York. While I was out of the Club, I was picked up by Los Angeles Police Officers, and taken to a Los Angeles police station on suspicion of being a user of narcotics. I was held there over night, and after it was found out that the charges could not be substantiated, as a substitute, I was booked on a drunken and disorderly charge which was unfounded. Mr. Charlie Carpenter (who works out of the Gale Agency) paid the $10.00 fine for me, and I was released at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening, March 2nd.
Tucker: Tuesday, March 2nd, Mr. Parker came in with Mr. Charles Carpenter and asked to renegotiate because the Union would bar him from ever playing anywhere in the Country. We renegotiated and Mr. Parker played four sets instead of five, consisting of 17-14-18-20 minutes each. During these short sessions, Mr. Parker played very little. He leaned on the piano and weaved from side to side, obviously intoxicated. His eyes were shut three or four minutes at a time and he didn’t play a note. He sweat [sic] profusely, and wiped his brow with his forefinger and thrust sweat to the floor, unbecoming to a performer. His stage behavior was the most deplorable I have ever witnessed. Patrons laughed and giggled and wondered what next.
Bird: All during the time I was being held by the Police Department, I was not allowed to call the Tiffany Club to explain why I never returned after leaving the Club at 11 o’clock Monday night, and no one else contacted the Club to explain my absence. This was later explained to Mr. Tucker, and due to the fact that he was aware of why I did not return on Monday, we renegotiated a contract to start on Tuesday evening, which was accepted by the Los Angeles local representative. I reopened the club on March 2nd, and played all the sets I was instructed to play under local house policy.Mr. Carpenter remained with me at the Club for most of the evening, and if necessary, I will forward a statement from him that I was not intoxicated during the time he was there. Mr. Tucker’s comments about my behavior on the stage are purely a matter of opinion and conjecture. All I can say is that the people seemed satisfied with my performance and applauded the performance.
Tucker: He rarely called numbers and on the second show asked me if he could use a drummer friend for that set and I told him we weren’t having a Jam Session and had no permission from the Union to do that. However, he announced the other drummer and after the set, asked the audience if that wasn’t a good replacement, causing embarrassment to the regular drummer. During this evening he had a bottle stashed, without my knowledge, which is against the law in California and at the bar drank triple Brandy Alexanders with double scotch on the side. Also made one appearance with lipstick all over him.
Bird: His comments as to whether or not I could use a drummer friend for one set, are not correct due to the fact that the sitting in of the drummer was done with the permission of Mr. Fain of the Los Angeles local, and with the permission of the regular drummer inasmuch as his equipment was used. I have been a member of the American Federation of Musicians for many years, and I surely understand the laws regarding musicians sitting in on other people’s engagements, and this was done with complete accord. I deny having a bottle stached [sic] away, as claimed by Mr. Tucker, on that night or any other night that I was in the Club, as if I desired intoxicants of any kind, they were available to me in the Club.
Tucker: Wednesday, March 3rd Mr. Parker arrived 9:50 p.m., and I announced him at 9:55 p.m. At 10:03 p.m. and only playing about 3 minutes of the 8, Mr. Parker proceeded to introduce Mr. Hibbler. I walked to the dais and reminded him that I would do that when the time came [and] to play more. Again he announced Mr. Hibbler, so I told him to either play or leave the stand. He left and while I was announcing Mr. Hibbler, Mr. Parker went to the bar and ordered another triple alexander and scotch. My bartender refused to serve him. When I came off stage, my bartender explained that Mr. Parker was too intoxicated to serve and that he [the bartender] would be subject to fine or arrest or both himself. Mr. Parker then stated that he would finish that night, but I said not to wait any longer that he was through the last time he got off stage.
Bird: Mr. Tucker’s comments about the introduction of Al Hibbler, the other artist on the show with me, are absolutely wrong due to the fact that it was the scheduled time for Mr. Hibbler to appear, and Mr. Hibbler’s manager was insisting that Hibbler sing as per schedule. Mr. Tucker should know this. Mr. Tucker keeps repeating the fact that I drank triple Brandy Alexanders, and that I was supposed to have walked over to the bar after announcing Hibbler, and ordered another of these drinks. The true story of this is that I could not have been drinking triple Brandy Alexanders and Scotch and become so completely intoxicated while I was in the Club, buy other people drinks, and only run up a bar bill for three days of $34.40 (which Mr. Tucker acknowledges) inasmuch as you undoubtedly know, Brandy and Scotch are normally expensive drinks in any Club, and the Tiffany Club is not one that one would consider a cheap Club. The bartender simply refused to serve me because Mr. Tucker had taken the attitude that I should not be served or have any courtesy shown me in the Club, and he [the bartender] was an employee, only following Mr. Tucker’s instructions. It had nothing to do with the fact that I had one drink, or any drinks, or that I was intoxicated. If Mr. Tucker thought my behavior was erratic during the part of the engagement I played with him, I wish to state for the record that I was aware all of the time, that my three year old daughter was extremely ill, and I was completely worried about this. On Wednesday night, I learned that she was to be put into an oxygen tent in a last effort to save her life. This was unsuccessful, and my baby died on Friday evening. Even though I knew the condition of my baby, I voluntarily offered my services to Mr. Tucker for Friday and Saturday night, which, of course, he refused.