Home Masthead Unpacking Bird… A Discovery Most Joyful!

Unpacking Bird… A Discovery Most Joyful!


CHarlie-Parker-Dean-Benedetti-JDGShortly after Dean Benedetti first heard and encountered Bird live, the alto saxophonist’s drug problem got the better of his health. This necessitated Bird’s incarceration at Camarillo Hospital. Dean Benedetti was lost. He turned back to his 78s and his study of the new thing… this bebop… continued. A few months passed before his mentor was released from the Institution.

When Bird returned to the land of the living, when he was back and out of Camarillo, he swooped over and touched down at a friend—Chuck Copely’s house. The recorders and the 78 acetates came flying out too! Bird licked the reed and started to play. His chops were impeccable. The needles scratched furiously as recording after recording was made. Dean Benedetti found his true calling at this ‘bootleg’ session. He did not have to wait long, though Bird suddenly dropped out of sight for a while. But when he returned a couple of months later, Mr. Benedetti was waiting for him with his recorder and his blank acetates! But Benedetti decided that to study this genius, he need only have a record of what he played his solos… no need for the band… Only Bird mattered. So that’s what he’d do, hit record when Bird played… and when Bird blew his two or three short choruses; the settled down for the ensemble playing, Dean Benedetti would stop the recording…
Having tried to set the scene for the box of music I hold in my hand, I proceed to open it, this great black and white box that holds a priceless collection of music…

Fade to black… Thus I finally arrive at what is probably the most prized possession a music collector such as I could ever have—The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker, (Mosaic, 1990). These are—as we know by now—recordings made by Bird’s most dedicated fan between March 1, 1947 and July 11, 1948, made largely at the Hi-De-Ho, the Onyx and the Three Deuces…

Bird-Dean-Benedetti-Concert-LargeThe scene is set! Bird appears with his band, sets up on stage… sound check… Dean Benedetti is following closely behind, scrounging around for a table to set his recorder up… wait a minute… need a plug-point… Found it… Now let’s get going! It is as if I were there too. And now I begin to feel a heat wave come over me. It is truly a strange feeling. I am becoming Dean Benedetti; adjusting the wires, the microphone… tuning in to Bird…

The fire was lit at Copely’s… The recorder in tow, Dean Benedetti struck it out to the LA’s Hi-De-Ho, March 1, 1947… and recorded almost every soaring Bird flight up until the gig ended March 13, 1947. Nothing until 1948, when Bird surfaces in New York at The Three Deuces, March 31, to be exact. Benedetti is there…and finally a fabulous week at the Onyx, end-July 1948. Probably because he believed that Bird was the ultimate musician, descended down from heaven, or probably because he was just the truly exacting student who had to know just how Bird heard the changes, he documented everything for transcription… This is probably why Benedetti’s catalogue became so valuable and lasted until today. If was as Anatole France once suggested (in the context of books), “The only exact knowledge there is,” he said “is the knowledge of the date of the publication and the format of the books.” This ensured their continuing survival and also the best possible way to enjoy them: In their exact context of time and place! But Bird conspired to give us something more…infinitely more! It was the music he heard and the way it changed our world…

“I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That’s when I was born…”

Humiliation at jams forced Bird to practice for hours on end until he was able to play the music he heard in his head. He could play many songs and often did, it has been said, in all twelve keys, and often played in unconventional concert key signatures… in E, for instance, which transposes to a C# for the alto saxophone! By 1945 it all came together on “Shaw ‘Nuff” and “Hot House,” perhaps the two most distinctive statements of the new thing called bebop. Dizzy Gillespie, possibly his most worthy soul mate said, “At first we stressed different things. I was more for chord variations and he was more for melody, I think. But when we got together we influenced each other.”

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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