29 August 2008

Remembering Bird 2008

Talk about your hall of mirrors. In the photo above TNLD captures the indefatigable blogger Plastic in Bag capturing this video of this year's Charlie Parker memorial, held last weekend at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Summit, MO. (The celebration has become a annual event over the last few years, usually taking place on the Sunday before Bird's birthday which is actually today August 29. Happy birthday, Mr Parker!)

Here's the Kansas City Star's coverage of the event, which includes pictures that are much more professional than anything I took. (I was standing nearby as reporter Brian Burnes and his pen tried to keep up with saxophonist Loren Pickford, who didn't so much talk as radiate phrases that rose, fell and darted bebop style. Burnes probably had to soak his wrist that evening.)

Despite ideal (damn near miraculous, really) late-August weather, the attendance was down from last year's event in almost every category: fewer horns around the grave, fewer folks gawking the musicians, fewer Parker family members, and few members of the Dirty Force Street Band closing things out. There were also fewer revelers at the Mutual Musicians Foundation jam session afterward. The number of bigpipers held steady at one.

This could be taken as yet another reason for hand wringing about the state of jazz in old Kaycee and by extension elsewhere else. I see it more as a matter of logistics and chance.
  • Logistics: Two months before, Dean Hampton, the events longtime organizer and a longtime local jazz agitator was forced by illness to hand the event over to a group of volunteers including Fanny Dunfee and Bill Doty and some stalwarts from JAM. And for their first time out, they did a very capable job.
  • Chance: You can never tell how many folks, especially jazz fans are going to be able to make it anywhere on a Sunday afternoon. This year's event also faced competition from high-flying birds of another sort at the Kansas City Air Show, as well as other festivals and fair in other places.
That said, in the long run, the event will need some youthifying if it's going to stay fresh. Maybe get some of the kids from the jazz program at the UMKC Conservatory to jump in.

One particularly notable moment from the jam session: The band had played through several of Bird's tunes and wound up with about 10 guys on the stand for Billie's Bounce. They went around the band soloing, first longer solos and then back around trading tighter four-bar solos. As often happens, one guy was on fire and that afternoon it was trumpeter Lonnie McFadden. He really tore it up, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, prompted hollering from the crowd, and when the song ended and the crowd was cheering, the musicians around him reached out, seemingly involuntarily, to touch him, as though they were hoping some of that fire might pass to them. That's the magic of art, that's the beauty of jazz.


Listen up: My radio piece from last year's event.

1 comment:

Happy In Bag said...

I've been outed.