Monday Notes

Kenny Clarke & Charlie Parker, Si Si. Bebop nights at Minton

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[Monday Notes no. 17] Every art has its own magic places, where at a particular moment something special and decisive happened. For jazz music, one of these places is certainly Minton’s, where some musicians used to meet late at night for endless jam sessions, sometimes after playing elsewhere. Drummer Kenny Clarke was one of them.

At Minton’s and other similar venues a handful of musicians experimented with the new jazz language. Dizzy Gillespie was one of the protagonists and often mentioned Kenny Clarke as the greatest innovator of jazz drumming.

In fact, Kenny Clarke was the first to shift the rhythmic accompaniment from the bass drum to the cymbal, using the bass drum instead to comment on the solos of his bandmates, with sudden and unpredictable strokes that pushed the tempo forward with great energy.

This recording is much later than those early experiments and is one of the few on which Charlie Parker and Kenny Clarke are found together. The track is a blues entitled Si Si, after a brief introduction of piano and drums, saxophone and trumpet perform the theme in unison, a formula dear to the boppers.

This is followed by the sax solo for the duration of three choruses, then the trumpet playing two choruses and the piano playing two choruses. At minute 2’06” we can hear the last improvised chorus, in which the bass and drums play two measures each.

In this piece we can fully appreciate the new and more modern function of the drums: a solo instrument on a par with the others, which intervenes throughout the piece with continuous comments, performs a solo of its own and finally concludes the piece with a short effective coda (2’35”).

Kenny Clarke spent many years of his life in Paris where he played extensively with Bud Powell, contributing to the spread of modern jazz in Europe.

Until next Monday

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