Weekly Posting, May 29th, 2020

Howard McGhee (without shades) and his beautiful wife. As an interracial couple living in Los Angeles, they faced constant harassment.

As far as I can tell, nothing momentous happened to Charlie Parker (Bird) at the end of May at any point in his life. This statistical fluke presents an opportunity to listen to the second half of an interview with trumpeter Howard McGhee, conducted by preeminent Bird scholar Phil Schaap. The first half concerns Bird’s July 29th, 1946 breakdown in Los Angeles, so it makes sense to save that for midsummer. In the second half, though, McGhee reminisces about Bird in a more general way.

McGhee was one of the earliest exponents of modern jazz on the West Coast, and he did more than anyone else to support Bird during his troubled times there. McGhee’s affection for him is clear throughout, as is his willingness to accept Bird’s flaws. The interview was recorded in the mid 1970s, which gives him the full benefit of hindsight (and nostalgia), but there is no doubting his lifelong love for Bird.

At the end of the interview, McGhee touches on the “Relaxing At Camarillo” recording session, Bird’s last before his return to New York. (The title was Ross Russell’s invention; Bird named the song “Past Due”.)The twisting contours of this 12-bar blues line were difficult for the other musicians to master, even men the caliber of Wardell Gray and Barney Kessel, because it was unlike anything they’d ever heard before. (Bird’s rhythmic conception had continued to evolve during his time in Camarillo.) I’ve included Take 1 as well as the master take, Take 5, as alternate takes are always fun to compare. As was so often the case, Bird plays an excellent solo on the first take, completely different than the one that was released but in no way inferior.

I hope you find this interview as meaningful as I do. It is somewhat preemptive, balancing out in advance of another clueless-white-guy-squanders-priceless-opportunity interview that took place June 13th, 1953. More on that in a couple of weeks.

Howard McGhee Interview Part 2
Relaxin’ At Camarillo Master
Relaxin’ At Camarillo Take 1

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