Tony Scott: Stefan Wolpe and Charlie Parker cross paths

Here’s a mid-century New York City story, one of many where Bebop and Modern European concert music share a moment together; both kinds of music were enjoying some vitality in New York during the early 1950s. Bird plays a supporting role here in a remembrance that’s primarily about composer/pedagogue Stefan Wolpe. During this era Wolpe had several composition students who were active in the Jazz world: George Russell, John Carisi, Eddie Sauter, Bill Finegan and others. Clarinetist/raconteur/all-around-hep-cat Tony Scott fills us in:

“Stefan was my teacher and dear friend.[…] and we had some wonderful times together. I lived at 81 Fourth Avenue in a loft 100 feet long and 30 feet wide. I was a disciple of Charlie Parker and his music called bebop. For me it is the last main influence on black jazz. Stefan was at my house when Charlie Parker came on one of his many visits to me. When I introduced them, they both were thrilled. Stefan exuberantly shouted, “Bird, I love your music !” And Bird went into his three-plumed hat routine and in his best Shakespearean voice said, “Maestro, I would be honored if you would write something for me and a 75-piece orchestra. Mr. Norman Granz will pay you for it.” It was a beautiful idea but was never realized. At another meeting Bird and Stefan went with me to see a movie about flamenco dance with famous dancers Antonio e Rosaria. Stefan shouted OLE!!! a few times. Bird was sitting behind me and went to sleep. I turned around after a half hour and Bird was gone. Bird came and left when he felt like it. When Stefan composed his Saxophone Quartet [completed in 1954], he asked me to get Bird to play the part on tenor sax. I did not know if Bird could play Stefan’s music and if he would show up at the recording session. So I got Al Cohn, famous jazz tenor saxist, to play the part. [In fact Al Cohn plays on the premiere recording of this quartet.] I was able to school Stefan in black music with discs of Mahalia Jackson, famous and fabulous black spiritual singer. Stefan also loved Mahalia Jackson, and when I played her records for him at my house, he shouted, “Why can’t they sing my songs like this!”

Tony Scott, unidentified young jazz fan, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker backstage at Carnegie Hall Nov 14 1952

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