Parker’s style of composition involved interpolation of original melodies over existing jazz forms and standards, a practice known as contrafact and still common in jazz today. Examples include “Ornithology” (which borrows the chord progression of jazz standard “How High the Moon”), and “Yardbird Suite”, the vocal version of which is called “What Price Love”, with lyrics by Parker.
The practice was not uncommon prior to bebop, but it became a signature of the movement as artists began to move away from arranging popular standards and toward composing their own material.
While tunes such as “Now’s The Time”, “Billie’s Bounce”, “Au Privave”, “Barbados”, “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”, “Bloomdido”, and “Cool Blues” were based on conventional 12-bar blues changes, Parker also created a unique version of the 12-bar blues for tunes such as “Blues for Alice”, “Laird Baird”, and “Si Si.” These unique chords are known popularly as “Bird Changes”.
Like his solos, some of his compositions are characterized by long, complex melodic lines and a minimum of repetition although he did employ the use of repetition in some tunes, most notably “Now’s The Time”.
Parker contributed greatly to the modern jazz solo, one in which triplets and pick-up notes were used in unorthodox ways to lead into chord tones, affording the soloist with more freedom to use passing tones, which soloists previously avoided.
Parker was admired for his unique style of phrasing and innovative use of rhythm. Via his recordings and the popularity of the posthumously published Charlie Parker Omnibook, Parker’s identifiable style dominated jazz for many years to come.
Other well-known Parker compositions include “Ah-Leu-Cha”, “Anthropology”, co-written with Gillespie, “Bird Gets the Worm”, “Cheryl”, “Confirmation”, “Constellation”, “Donna Lee”, “Moose the Mooche”, and “Scrapple from the Apple”.
Miles Davis once said, “You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.”
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