Home Masthead Unpacking Bird… A Discovery Most Joyful!

Unpacking Bird… A Discovery Most Joyful!


Charlie-Parker-and-Dizzy-JDGI pride myself with Jazz at Massey Hall, (Prestige LP, May 15, 1953—later on CD, of which I have two editions,) The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, (September 19, 1988,) The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes, (Savoy, October 25 1990,) The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings, (Savoy, June 18, 2002) and The Complete Royal Roost Recordings, (Dial,) Bird at St Nicks, (Debut, 1992), The Complete Birth of Bebop, (Stash, 1942), Charlie Parker and Lennie Tristano—mostly radio shows recorded in 1947, 1949 and 1951—(Definitive Records, 2006) and about forty other recordings of Bird that I bought, years ago when there was very little available. I listen to this music regularly, often in twilight or even in the wee hours of a morning. I am always transported to a club or studio where the music is performed. In fact I can almost see shadowy figures of Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach blazing through their repertoire each on the stage of Massey Hall, or bantering with Symphony Sid on that boisterous New Year…

But somehow, I never envisage my Bird collection as being complete. I have heard of a fan who had been Bird’s shadow for several years in the 40s recording everything he played! Ross Russell had some not-so-nice words to say about him in Bird Lives (Da Capo, Reprinted 1996). His name is Dean Benedetti. I heard about how he used to follow Bird from gig to gig recording him on small machine. Like most of my kind, I also believed that this was both real and the recordings were either missing or destroyed, or that they never existed: another figment of the folklore surrounding Bird. I soon found out how wrong I was…

Charlie Parket with Dean BenedettiFlashback to the roaring 20s… Born in 1920, Dean Benedetti was a working tenor saxophonist by the time World War II came around, leaning—like most other tenor players—towards Lester Young. He had a band that—at one time or other—featured Jimmy Knepper, Dale Snow and Joe Albany among others. Mr. Benedetti was obsessed with Lester Young’s laid-back sound. He even affected it when he played… Then he heard Charlie Parker on a 1945 date (Guild) with Dizzy Gillespie. He fell, it appears, through a time warp and forgot all of the adulation due to Lester Young, deciding that Bird was the state of the art (still is, in my view—listened to “Donna-Lee,” “My Melancholy Baby…” lately?) He bought, it has been said everything he could find on Charlie Parker and studied the music, transcribing the solos so he could play them note for note.

In the winter of 1945, Mr. Benedetti’s and Bird’s paths crossed on the West Coast. Now he could hear, first hand, the unique music of his idol, a magical sound the seemed to cascade from the alto horn of Bird… Unlike the records and transcriptions Dean Benedetti heard over and over again, listening to The Master live, meant that every sound was momentary, heard once before it vanished into thin air, leaving behind only the memory of the momentous music that had passed. He had to do something, perhaps more than merely transcribing the music. But what…

Dean Benedetti’s days as a saxophonist were over when he was struck by Bird—sometime in the early mid-40s— he was convinced that this was listening to the definitive future of music and decided that he had to be a disciple, moving wherever Bird did, recording his unique music and studying it and assiduously transcribing it. Mr. Benedetti was excited. This was his epiphany. He had seen the light… better still heard the word and had to document it. But I am sure that he never knew really what he had done when he chased Bird from gig to gig with his wire recorder. He just knew he was on to something big! But just how big…? He was—I believe, the epitome of a true student of the musical arts. As such he chose to follow his idol. He knew, just as I believe that ‘it was—and still is—in the music…’ that music was your best teacher and ‘the solos were where it was (and is) at! So Dean Benedetti chose to transcribe only Bird solos. But Mr. Benedetti did something extraordinary as well. He wrote down details: who played on alto, who was on trumpet, who sat in on piano; who was on drums and who played bass, trombone and more… He was the true and authentic discographer—in Bird lore—an ornithologist!

Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.


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