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Bird Lives! A Charlie Parker Centennial, With Strings Attached, on Jazz Night in America

William Gottlieb

Charlie Parker, the incandescent avatar of modern jazz, didn't live to see 35. His centennial is upon us, and with it comes a chance to celebrate his legacy — as a quicksilver alto saxophonist, a voracious musical thinker and a crucial link in the chain of jazz tradition. Bird, as he was fondly known, gave us a lexicon as well as a literature. Like Louis Armstrong before him and just a few others since, he redrew the possibilities of the art form, and he did it with absolute panache.

For our "Bird at 100" show, Jazz Night in America locks in on a Parker tribute featuring two alto saxophonists well suited to the task: leading bebop practitioner Charles McPherson and the ever-soulful Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson. They joined forces for a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert organized by trombonist Vincent Gardner, with a focus on the iconic Charlie Parker with Strings recordings — a crossover landmark, and a byproduct of Parker's sincere interest in classical modernism.

We'll hear vibrant music from the concert — not only standard fare like "Just Friends," but also pieces like George Russell's "Ezz-thetic," which Parker never had the chance to record. We'll also hear insights from Carl Woideck, one of Parker's biographers, and violinist Teddy Blume, a key member of his string section. What it all amounts to is a reaffirmation of Parker's continuing relevance, as McPherson succinctly puts it. "When you do these kinds of projects," he reflects, "in a way, this is when you realize how great Bird was."

Set List

  • "Easy to Love" (Cole Porter, arr. Jimmy Mundy)
  • "Just Friends" (John Klenner, arr. Jimmy Carroll)
  • "Laura" (David Raksin, arr. Joe Lipman)
  • "Rocker" (Gerry Mulligan)
  • "Repetition" (Neal Hefti)
  • "Ezz-Thetic" (George Russell)
  • "Scootin' " (John Lewis)


Vincent Gardner, trombone and music director; Charles McPherson, alto saxophone; Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass, Victor Lewis, drums.

The Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas: Ben Wendel, conductor; Daniel Andai, violin and concertmaster; Brooke Quiggins-Saulnier, violin; Elizabeth Young, violin; Cecee Pantikian, violin; Regi Papa, violin; Audrey Lo, violin; Irene Momchilova, viola, principal; Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin, viola; Benjamin Capps, cello; Keve Wilson, oboe and english horn; Kristi Shade, harp.


Special thanks to: Carl Woideck and Kerry Farrell. And to Phil Schaap for letting us use his interview with Teddy Blume. Hear the entire interview and many more of Phil's radio episodes here.

Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Music Engineer: Rob Macomber; Technical Director: David Tallacksen; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Alex Ariff has big ears. A musician first, he straddles the worlds between performance/songwriting, media production and storytelling. Alex earned his B.A in Music from Florida State University where he fell for all facets of jazz music, history, and culture. He went onto earn his M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University-Newark. It was during this time that Alex began working at WBGO, where he currently works as a producer on Jazz Night in America. Outside of WBGO, Alex enjoys lapsang souchong, bike rides, and playing with his band The Wali Sanga.