Friday, April 10, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 99: King Pleasure

King Pleasure's version of "Parker's Mood" is one of my favorite records of all time. I've let it be known that it's the song I want played at my memorial service, assuming anyone wants to organize one for me. It is so close to my heart that it's difficult to write about it.

And right up there alongside it is Charlie Parker's recording of his own mood. It's one of the few--perhaps the only one of Bird's original compositions that he only recorded once, so that one recording stands as the perfect, the Platonic ideal representation of this tune. And deservedly so.

Other musicians have recorded "Parker's Mood." There's an odd but enjoyable swing version by Jimmie Lunceford, a respectful tribute by Roy Hargrove and Christian McBride, a somewhat less respectful but eminently listenable version by James Moody on a 70th birthday live album. Supersax was a strange and fascinating Parker tribute band that played note-for-note replications of Parker's recordings with five saxophones and brass.

But the two recordings that count are Bird and King Pleasure. Bird emotionally searing, technically a wizard, and it is possible to accomplish both at the same time. Novelist John Barth said "“In art as in lovemaking, heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity.” And that's what you got, one recording after another, from Charlie Parker.

King Pleasure puts words to what needed no words, and it turns out that the words really do add something. His voice is smooth but passionate, his words familiar but memorable. He creates an elegy by pulling lyrics, magpie-like, from a variety of sources including "Going to Chicago Blues" and "Careless Love," adding words of his own, and leaving us with the unforgettable reminder that "through thick and thin / On up to the end / Parker's been your friend."

One artist played the same role on both of these recordings: John Lewis. Lewis headed a trio with beboppers par excellence Curley Russell and Max Roach on the 1948 Savoy recording with Parker, and led his MJQ-mates Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke in 1953 for Prestige. He's masterful in both, with his reflective little figure following the opening cadenza, his solo that fully captures Parker's and Pleasure's moods, and his laconic but heartfelt summing-up figure at the end.

"Parker's Mood" stayed with Lewis as it did for everyone else who's heard it and opened up to -- probably more so for the great pianist. Some five decades later, at age 80, he revisited again with his "One of Parker's Moods," as he faced his own mortality - he would go to his own Kansas City less than a year later.

Prestige released "Parker's Mood" and "What Can I Say Dear" on 78 and 45. I don't mean to give such short shrift to "What Can I Say Dear," which is a fine recording, but "Parker's Mood" is special. It came out on a second 45 b/w "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid," on the 10-inch LP, and on the great King Pleasure Sings/Annie Ross Sings 12-inch LP.

No comments: