|Bob Thompson Music|
"Oh an arranger from, Holl-y-wood!"
That's what Dizzy Gillespie said when my dad was introduced to him as such. Bob said: "As soon as I heard that introduction I thought Oh boy, here it comes!" I'm proud that dad was introduced to the Bach of his time, and it is certainly an honor to meet someone like that even if taken down a notch or three! However, Bob in no way thought of himself in the same universe as Dizzy.
Charlie Parker's Hot House Video
I stumbled on a pretty unique performance of Hot House from 1952 on YouTube because of the
encounter between Earl Wilson and Charlie Parker that comes before he launches in to Hot House, one of the definitive be-bop songs. The show was called Stage Entrance, and Wilson, a New York Post columnist, hands Bird a plaque for winning a Downbeat award. It's weird to see the equivalent of Mozart getting a little wooden award for making good music. AWKWARD. In all fairness Wilson was not with Downbeat, and that publication has been a respected champion of the art form for over 60 years; and I imagine its editors would appreciate the moment's irony and awkwardness.
"...if you don't mind"
"If you don't mind"! There's so much in those four words and the exchange, although at face value there is so little. The moment is more than just AWKWARD.
Scott Yanow in Jazz on Film calls Wilson "moderately prejudiced and somewhat befuddled" while David Yaffe takes it further in Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing:
Yaffe fills in a blank when he describes what came before the You Tube clip in question:
I broke the satirical slogan of YouTube, and did read the video's comments; and there's some disagreement as to whether or not the moment has any racial context, and what the look on Bird's face (about 30 seconds in) means. Yaffe calls it a "furious glance." At the very least there are racial overtones to this scene. It also may be the melody itself. There is a kind of simultaneous disconnect between Bird's place in musical history and the plaque, and between the sounds we hear on YouTube and at what point in American history this chat takes place. In this video you see both.
Yaffe says Hot House is a reworking of a genteel Cole Porter tune, which is renamed, given a be-bop edge, and turned into a "withering musical response" to the situation to what immediately preceded it.
Other than meeting him, my dad told me a few things about Dizzy over the years, I suppose through other musicians. Some racist guy was hassling Bird and grabbing him while Dizzy shouted: "Unhand him, you cur!" - answering savagery with sophistication. He also told me that Dizzy that was very good with money and that many musicians were not.
As Bob said about his much less significant advertising awards, "none of them are worth a red cent."
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.