Remembering Bird (and Bix)

Remembering Bird (and Bix)

Andy V.
Andy V.

August 29th, 2017, 2:18 pm #1

Interesting editorial piece by Arthur Brooks in NY Times today, Charlie Parker's 97th birthday. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/opin ... ef=opinion

There are obvious similarities in terms of genius, professional activities, and trajectories between Bird and Bix. I wonder what Bix Forumites think of Brooks' conceit in the article.

The author of this article is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think-tank. Brooks played classical music professionally (French horn) for years before moving on to the academic/intellectual world.
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Mark Gabrish Conlan
Mark Gabrish Conlan

August 29th, 2017, 3:43 pm #2

Arthur Brooks' article on Charlie Parker offers a lot of parallels to Bix, including the obvious one that both could have lived much longer, happier and more productive lives if they'd been able as human beings to live with the same sense of order, structure and discipline with which they functioned as musicians. There's one bit of "Birding" in Brooks' article comparable to the many tall tales about Bix's life which Forumites have called "Bixing": the statement that in the last years of his life "the greatest musician of his generation pawned his instruments and played on the street for loose change from passers-by." Bird habitually pawned his horns for drug money (some savvy club owners insisted on locking up his saxophone inside their club and giving it to him only when he was ready to play) but he was never reduced to working as a street musician.

It's true, as Brooks recounts, that Charlie Parker may not have been able to recover from drug addiction himself but did his best to warn other musicians away from drug use. If Bird encouraged other musicians to use heroin, it was by example. No one who actually knew Bird ever recalled him urging another musician to take drugs. A lot of them remembered him saying things similar to the quote in Brooks' article and basically telling them, "Stay off drugs. Don't ruin your life the way I've ruined mine." (Alas, most of the musicians who told those stories ruefully added, "I should have listened to him.")

The entire history of jazz has been the struggle of musicians to express themselves within the forms handed down by their predecessors and to widen and broaden the music. The original New Orleans players chafed against the restrictions of marching-band music and developed a style looser, freer, more syncopated and swinging. The next generation of jazz players, particularly Louis Armstrong and Bix, pushed the boundaries further and turned jazz from an ensemble-based music to one based on individual expression in improvised solos. Charlie Parker and his contemporaries pushed the boundaries even further by adding newer, more dissonant harmonies and building their melodies from the inner notes of chords. Later musicians like Miles Davis (a protegé of Parker), John Coltrane (a protegé of Davis), Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler abandoned the discipline of unchanging chord structures but found new ways to organize their music and keep it from descending into cacaphony, including basing it on modes (scales) and melodic, not harmonic, variations.

Indeed, in his Jazz Review article "The State of Dixieland" Richard Hadlock argued persuasively that Bix's music anticipated some of the more advanced harmonies of Bird's: Bix, Hadlock wrote, "was practicing in 1927 what a few early 'bop' modernists (Charlie Parker in particular) felt they were discovering some 12 years later. Parker himself claimed to have stumbled onto the idea, in 1939, of 'using higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them up with appropriately related changes.' Which is exactly what Bix Beiderbecke (and, to a lesser extent, Frank Trumbauer) was up to, although most of his cohorts weren't always aware of it and invariably failed to furnish the 'appropriately related changes.'"

Also, both Bix and Bird did their best work with musical partners who were pursuing similar innovations but were also far more grounded human beings who avoided alcoholism, drug abuse and the other pitfalls of the "jazz life": Frank Trumbauer in Bix's case and Dizzy Gillespie in Bird's.
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Alberta
Alberta

August 30th, 2017, 7:55 am #3

Interesting editorial piece by Arthur Brooks in NY Times today, Charlie Parker's 97th birthday. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/opin ... ef=opinion

There are obvious similarities in terms of genius, professional activities, and trajectories between Bird and Bix. I wonder what Bix Forumites think of Brooks' conceit in the article.

The author of this article is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think-tank. Brooks played classical music professionally (French horn) for years before moving on to the academic/intellectual world.
you reminded me why I quit reading the NYT 25 years ago. So unpleasant to have to read someone preaching about the lessons we should all learn from someone else's life. Let's hope Bird doesn't read the Times either.
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Andy V.
Andy V.

August 31st, 2017, 1:54 pm #4

Alberta, I sensed a sermon in there too. The writer is a "guest columnist" to the editorial section, so I wouldn't give up on the Times.

I fully support the idea that creative productivity can flourish when mated with personal discipline, but I think it's a lot more complicated than that in real life. Some can, some can't. Mark's post is right on target I think.

Sometimes we wish Bird or Bix would have done this or that differently, and maybe deep down it's because we want more product to enjoy. Seems kind of selfish. They lived their lives as they did, whether one approves or not.
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Alberta
Alberta

August 31st, 2017, 9:06 pm #5

Just looking at that picture of Bird in his youth, looking so happy and confident, might have inspired a different author to just appreciate his exuberance and life and be sad that it all has to end, for all of us, without bringing in Durkheim or whoever, although now I'm inspired to read it again after 45 years and try to get something out of it cause I think I missed the point the first time. It is true that there have been good things in the Times, and true things, but not reliably enough to take the time to find them. It's really just propaganda for the New York fishbowl, so they can keep the engine of their own prosperity going. The world is their stripmine! Sorry for rambling. For many of us, as for that author, Bird Lives, and Bix Too.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

August 31st, 2017, 11:44 pm #6

Interesting editorial piece by Arthur Brooks in NY Times today, Charlie Parker's 97th birthday. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/opin ... ef=opinion

There are obvious similarities in terms of genius, professional activities, and trajectories between Bird and Bix. I wonder what Bix Forumites think of Brooks' conceit in the article.

The author of this article is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think-tank. Brooks played classical music professionally (French horn) for years before moving on to the academic/intellectual world.
.... this is a lot of psychological claptrap.

- Brooks calls it freedom. I call it creativity. "Freedom in Parker’s music was the freedom to work within the melody and chords to make beautiful, life-affirming music." "life-affirming" What the h.... does that mean? "work within the melody and chords." Platitudes, platitudes.

- "the “paradox of choice” is a well-established phenomenon, in which consumers get less satisfaction beyond a certain number of product options because choosing itself requires energy and resources." Not me. I get great satisfaction of doing research before I choose a product, and find great satisfaction when the time and effort I spent choosing a product results in great success. Psycho babble has invaded the field of economics!

- "The lesson: To be truly free to enjoy the best things in life, set proper moral standards for yourself ..." Speak for yourself, Mr. Brooks. What moral standards do I need to be free to enjoy an opera or a sculpture or a painting? Preposterous.

Albert
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Alberta
Alberta

September 3rd, 2017, 2:45 am #7

I think babble is the wrong idea here, as though this were just harmless nonsense. It isn't harmless. It's telling people that true freedom comes from not being free, but from obeying an undefined moral standard. He's really saying Bird had no morality, otherwise he would have disciplined himself in life the way he did in music. So true morality for this guy is behaving yourself the way we all agree you should behave, except we don't agree at all. But since this writes for Times he gets to gets to tell us how Bird should have behaved. Bird alas can't get the benefit of this guy's invaluable advice, and this guy knows it, so it's really people who can afford to read the Times he's preaching to. Presumably people who need to be told what "real freedom" is?
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Andy V.
Andy V.

September 3rd, 2017, 6:59 pm #8

I'll say again that the author of this opinion piece is not on the staff of the NY Times. Arthur Brooks is the president of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute: http://www.aei.org/. I think most people feel the Times leans left. I happen to like the NY Times.

Here is Arthur Brooks in a short video done for Prager U. He explores some of the same the same philosophical territory as in his Charlie Parker column: if people just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and did the right thing, then everything would be okay. My reaction is the same: While I agree with pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and doing the right thing is good, I also know that life isn't that simple.
https://www.prageru.com/courses/economi ... ut-poverty

If Prager U sounds familiar, it may be because the Bix Forum discussed one of their videos comparing the virtues of classical art with the vulgarity of modern art. http://www.network54.com/Forum/27140/message/1468421136. It got my goat.

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Alberta
Alberta

September 4th, 2017, 8:00 am #9

but if the Times publishes his work, the Times stands behind it. I did not see a disclaimer under the piece, stating that the views are the author's own etc. etc. I really did not think about whether the Times is left or right, and whether the author is left or right, or whether the piece had the same philosophy as other pieces that appear in the Times. The author's claim that to be truly free you have to give up your freedom is just double-speak which all political ideologies have exploited at one time or another. It's just tiresome to see column space given to such worthless nonsense when there are actual important things to be discussed. It's too bad the Times doesn't give more space to actual thinkers and people who are committed to a better world. But at least I'm re-reading the Durkheim which is free online, and it was nice to see that pic of Bird again after so many years, so all is not lost. And I thank you for posting!
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Glenda Childress
Glenda Childress

September 11th, 2017, 7:18 pm #10

Alberta, I'm not arguing for excessive moralizing or psychobabble, but I will speak out for newspapers who publish writers who may not be in total agreement with the so-called "editorial stance" of the paper or that of some of their readers. Wouldn't we call the article in question an opinion piece, and wouldn't we want newspapers to publish varied opinions within their editorial sections?

A newspaper is charged to stand behind reports of actual events, the traditional <em>who, what, when, where, and how.</em> Opinion pieces have no such guarantee, only that they are published as actually written by the reputed author. Even if the editor or some readers do not agree with a writer's position, it is good policy to publish letters and articles by others of different opinions. A good opinion piece is not one that delivers absolute truth, but one that generates some thought and discussion. After all, We celebrate freedom in musical ideas.

You, of course, are free to self-censor newspapers, magazines, or other media. We all are.
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