Lenny Tristano

Sometime after Charlie Parker's death a major benefit concert was being presented at Carnegie Hall for his surviving family. Everyone, from Dizzy Gillespie to Sammy Davis Jr., who was then appearing on Broadway with the Will Mastin Trio in a tour de force for Sammy's multiple talents called "Mr. Wonderful." Any jazz musician that was playing anywhere near to the "Apple" would make an appearance to play, sing or comment about the loss of a major man that changed the way jazz would be played forever. I cannot fully recall if the impresario, Norman Grantz was the driving force to organize this benefit of major proportions. Maybe before this goes to print I can contact Phil Schaap of radio station WKCR in New York City to find out. Phil does a daily broadcast titled "Bird Flight" every morning and is probably the foremost authority on the history of Charlie Parker.

On the night of the concert - I can't remember if it was a Friday or a Saturday - I was with a couple of friends at a club in, what is now the "East Village" area of the city called the Stuyvesant Casino. Then, Stuyvesant Casino was generally known to house the more traditional or 'hot' players in those times. Musicians such as Pee Wee Russell, Muggsy Spanier, Hot Lips Pages were regulars at the club and the style was usually Dixieland. It was a big, smoky and hollow type of hall that may at one time have been a theater. The acoustics were lousy, I remember that sounds used to bounce off walls, people's heads or anything else that would get in the way. Stuyvesant Casino had a sister club a few blocks away called "Central Plaza" that featured the same format, more or less, as that of the Stuyvesant. Maybe Central Plaza was a bit purer; again, my memory is not completely focused.

The prime reason why we were in attendance on that particular evening was to see and hear the Stan Getz Quintet. You probably would ask: "What was Stan Getz doing playing in a house more dedicated to the strains of traditional fare?" You're right. Stan would have normally played at "Birdland or "Basin Street" uptown in those days. It seemed that the Stuyvesant was trying to branch out and extend their approach to the music. I do remember Stan not being particularly happy with the acoustics and noise permeating from this cavernously huge hall. The regular patrons were usually beer guzzlers who practiced loud talking during the solo of the musicians on the stand. Anyone having any knowledge about Getz would know that he doesn't take too lightly to this type of behavior during his performance. The only way he would get some attention was to tell the loud mouths to shut up. Those of us that went primarily to hear the music had applauded Stan's bluntness. It worked. Some figures command a lot of respect and wont settle for second rate. Stan was undoubtedly one of those throughout his career.

One of my friends, Louis Calvano, had served in the military with Stan's pianist, John Williams - not to be confused with the John Williams of "Boston Pops" and "Star Wars" fame &endash; and was anxious to say hello. After Stan's first set concluded we all got to meet John while he and Louis reminisced over old Army days. It turned out that Stan and his group were scheduled to play at the "Bird" benefit uptown at Carnegie later in the evening. While we chatted with John, Stan came by to ask about travel arrangements up to the hall for John and bassist, Teddy Kotick &endash; who had played a stint or two with Bird. Louis quick to detect a problem immediately volunteered to chauffeur the two musicians uptown as it would be en route to going home. This was deeply appreciated and so Stan reciprocated by offering to get us inside, backstage, to witness jazz history at the great Carnegie Hall. He didn't have to offer us twice. We were on our way to Carnegie with Teddy Kotick and John Williams, Louis Calvano and Mike De Pinto and myself. I would remember this for the rest of my life, particularly one very stirring musical event as performed in a rare public appearance by Lennie Tristano.

It was the first and only time in my life that I would ever see Lennie Tristano perform. He had written a solo piece, dedicated to Charlie Parker, titled "Requiem." It was the most intense, sacred and moving music I'd ever heard from anyone. Starting out with Schumannesque figures and going into a lament of the blues the piece had myself and most in the concert hall mesmerized. "Lennie plays here a heartfelt R.I.P. for the late Charlie Parker. There is a tender deliberateness about this performance: It is a man thinking grief, feeling deprived, thinking and feeling in the logical medium for grief and deprivation in jazz: the blues." When Lennie finished this incredible and surprising performance a chill seemed to sweep the crowded hall, one in which the feeling had suddenly been conveyed that something very vital and important had been lost to us. It would take years to understand and realize the legacy Charlie Parker had left us. We would go on to hear his music continually reincarnated into every serious jazz musician looking to find the key to the art of improvisation.

There is no doubt that Charlie Parker's music will live on as long as there is the music of jazz around and young musicians continue to be curious as to what it is that drives them. But that one night at Carnegie Hall on that crowded stage with an endless array of the most gifted and creative musicians paying their last respects, it took this other, little recognized, genius, being led to the piano because of his blindness, to shed light on the meaning of Charlie Parker as he eulogized him in the most fitting way on such an occasion with this haunting Requiem that has stayed with me forever.


Used with the full permission of Mr. Peter La Barbera. You can view more of Mr. La Barbera's work at his website.