2015 was the 60th anniversary of Charlie Parker’s passing. With this album I’ve endeavored to do something new and different in an effort to illustrate who “Bird” was as an archetypal character, and to draw attention to the huge impact that his work had on Jazz. To do this, rather than create yet another rehashing of Charlie Parker tunes in a traditional bebop setting, we have created a musical play that, with the limitations of a single album context, follows the narrative arc of his life. Musically, I worked with a group of musicians who feel like some of the most prescient and forward-looking musicians on the jazz scene today, and we have created a musical language that feels to me like something that outlines the shape of what Bird might be doing in this time, were he still alive and playing these songs. A Joycean language where metaphor reigns, and where intuitive dialog replaces the strictures of traditional jazz form, and where the lyric informs the musical elements. Lyrically, I worked with David Baerwald, a songwriter with whom I have worked extensively, and known for his albums with his own group David and David, and a songwriter with the lyrical facility to write programmatic material to the unusually jagged melodic nature of Charlie Parker’s compositions. We worked together to create a narrative thread that runs through the album, and to create a tableau where the songs are delivered by a number of characters from Charlie’s life, as well as three that are delivered in Charlie’s own voice, played by Jeffrey Wright.
The musicians include 3 of the musicians involved in David Bowie’s brilliant final album Blackstar (Donny McCaslin, Ben Monder, Mark Giuliana). Along with them are Eric Harland, Craig Taborn, Larry Grenadier, and Scott Colley, all musicians who I feel have the highest level of technical mastery, coupled with the wide-open humility and vision that was needed in order to get at the cinematic quality that I was envisioning; a music informed by bebop, but free of the literal trappings of bebop. The guest vocalists are an eclectic group of incredible talent; all of whom I feel are exquisitely suited to playing their roles in the story. Barbara Hannigan, who is one of the women cast as an incarnation of Parker’s last wife Chan, is perhaps the most exciting talent on the contemporary classical music scene. She is singing and conducting with orchestras around the world, and specializes in the work of adventurous contemporary composers like Berio, Alban Berg, Ligeti, Stravinsky, Boulez and many others. Jeffrey Wright, who performs the pieces written in Charlie’s voice, is an Emmy award winning film and stage actor who has been featured in such diverse pieces as the bio-pic Basquiat, The Hunger Games, HBO’s Angels In America, and is currently featured on HBO’s hit show Westworld. Grammy-winning Blue Note artist Gregory Porter, Universal artist Melody Gardot, Grammy-winner Luciana Souza, Madeleine Peyroux, and multiple Grammy-winner Kurt Elling, are all vocalists of immense stature in the jazz world with whom I have worked, and two new and exciting artists are featured in Blue Note artist Kandace Springs and YouTube sensation and Sony artist Camille Bertault. This album goes against all norms of the “tribute” genre in order to present an album that is a musical play about Charlie Parker; the transcendence of his work, his angels, and his demons.