Greenwich Village, 1958.
Ruby’s chasing poets like Kerouac, but does she even know he’s at Birdland? Kerouac calls it “the bop joint” and talks about Lester Young and seeing “eternity on his huge eyelids” in On the Road.
Couple years ago when I was ten my dad took me to see Charlie Parker there. Did you know Birdland was named for him? They called him Bird or Yardbird – either because he was free as a bird or because he hit a chicken (aka yard bird) accidentally while he was driving on tour.
I was lucky enough to see him before he died. If I played sax for a hundred years, and I want to, I don’t think I could ever play like Charlie did. He invented this new way of improvising, playing the higher intervals of a chord and then backing them up.
Charlie didn’t just play notes, though, he made you feel what he was playing. “If you don’t live it,” he said, “it won’t come out your horn.”
Which is funny, since the sax is really a woodwind. Anyway, Parker and Dizzy Gillespie invented bop and that’s what my dad’s friend Les is teaching me. I have an alto sax but one of these days I’m getting a bari. I would love to play baritone. You have to play every day, maybe hours, to be anywhere near as fine as the cats playing Birdland.
Sometimes Ruby and I get together and she reads a poem out loud and then I play along with it. One of these days we might play at Gaslight or somewhere. (She calls it the Scene in The Beat on Ruby’s Street.) Readers are saying they want to know more about me, that’s why I’m writing you here.
But you know, kids like Ruby don’t want to write about their big brothers and I don’t blame her, I mean, I don’t spend most of my time thinking about my kid sister, either. What I will say is I don’t mind having her around, she digs music and knows what I mean about Charlie. And one of these days when she’s a little older I’ll bring her to Birdland with Gary Daddy-o. That’s what Ruby calls him, makes me laugh.
Here’s the thing about Parker. He had all this Sad inside and that kinda sidelined him, made him hole up in his room with junk and all. Sometimes you have to get away from things, away from yourself even, but the junk was part of what took Parker out, and now he can’t play anymore, and we all got the Sad from missing him.
If I had chops like Parker I think my junk would be the sax. I don’t want to judge him though, I just want to listen to him, listen to his recordings and find out what made him so cool. Ruby says I know already and maybe she’s right. He said not to play the saxophone, just to “let it play you.”
That's what I want to do.