An Art Farmer story about Charlie Parker

Short and illuminating

Art Farmer and Jim Hall at Lennie’s on the Turnpike, Peabody MA. Early sixties

From Randi Hultin’s book “Born Under The Sign Of Jazz

“I was a close friend of Parker’s during the time I lived in California and went to high school – this was in the forties, just after he left Dizzy Gillespie. Addison [Art’s twin brother] and I had rented a big room to practice in, and Charlie Parker used to come there often – sometimes to get away from people, and other times because he didn’t have anything else to do. We used to go to the movies together, but nobody had any money, so we waited until the film was almost over. They used to let us in free.

“Charlie was a very nice guy, even though many people thought he was just the opposite. I remember especially one evening I heard him play with a pianist I thought was terrible – when you’re sixteen, you have strong opinions. This was an after-hours place where people could come in and play. Parker suddenly got out his horn and started playing with the piano player. ‘Why’d you play with him?’ I asked Parker on the way back to our room.

‘If people want to try to play, then they have to be able to do it,’ Parker answered.’It’s the only way they’re gonna learn.’ That was an important lesson for me.

“We became close friends. Parker was the type who just played when he felt like it, and if he didn’t feel like it, he was known to just stay away from the job. I remember one time I was playing with Lionel Hampton at a place right near Birdland, where Parker had a gig. But instead of playing there, Parker came over and played with us. You can imagine how mad they got at Birdland, where people had payed money to come in and listen to the great ‘Bird’! It happened a lot that he wouldn’t show up for a gig, but then he would come in a few days later and play for free. That’s how he was…”

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