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Exploring the Bebop Classic – “Donna Lee” – Charlie Parker & Miles Davis and others!

Hard BopLast week when I went to the library, one of the books that I checked out on jazz was Hard Bop: Jazz & black music 1955-1965.  by David H. Rosenthal. Rosenthal is a free-lance jazz critic whose articles on music have appeared in Down Beat, Jazz-Times, Keyboard,the Village Voice and other publications. Hard Bop is his first book about jazz.

Rosenthal starts his look at hard bop with a look at its immediate precursor BeBop. One of the first songs that he discusses is Charlie Parker’s composition “Donna Lee”. Rosenthal uses the song as an example of BeBop’s use of “typical” songs, in that the chord changes used in “Donna Lee” are based on the chords to the popular song “Indiana” About the song. The song was recorded on Savoy Records with Miles Davis, Bud Powell, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Max Roach. Rosenthal writes:

“Donna Lee’ is a classic bebop melody: serpentine, eccentrically syncopated, and based more on improvisational phrasing than on a simple  “songlike” theme. The three soloists (Parker, Davis, and Powell) all play long phrases that frequently violate bar lines spilling over them and beginning and ending in unexpected places. These phrases are counterbalanced, especially in Parker’s solo, by fragmentary shorter ones: scraps of material that add to the performance’s impromptu quality and to the feeling that we;re listening to someone “think aloud”, trying out motifs as he modulates from one idea to another…..

….Finally, Parker’s tone, sightly shrill.hard-edged, vibratoless and glossy, also tells us we’re listening to bebop. Indeed it formed the basis of virtually every black  jazz altoist’s sound between 1945 and 1960. On “Donna ee’ and dozens of other masterpieces of the era, everything is off-center, almost perversely so… eppur si muove! (Galileo’s words: And yet it moves!”) The most intricate acrobatics are accomplished with apparently effortless grace and swing (pp 12-13)

Charlie Parker with Miles DavisSo let’s give it a listen…..

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After listening to the Parker and Davis version of the song.. Oh by the way this is what it says about the song at Wikipedia:

“Donna Lee” is a bebop jazz standard composed by Miles Davis.[1] It was written in A flat and is based on the chord changes of the traditional jazz standard “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”.[1] One unusual feature of the tune is that it begins with a half-bar rest. It is a very complex, fast moving chart that utilizes a compositional style based around the usage of four note groups over each change.Read More

…I went to Spotify where I checked out a few of the covers of the song by other artists, including Wynton Marsailes, Lee Konitz and Wayne Marsh, bassist Jaco Pastorius, and a trumpeter I have never heard Ryan Kisor. I really like Wynton’s version …and you??