Essential New Music: Charlie Parker’s “The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection”

Whatever fails to kill a creative endeavor makes it stronger. You can argue that the music of Charlie Parker and the cohort of like-minded musical radicals that join him on this collection of music recorded between 1944 and 1948—Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Bud Powell and others—put a stake through the heart of popular, crowd-pleasing jazz. The tunes were unfamiliar, the solos flew at lightning speed and banked on the winds of inscrutable logics, you couldn’t dance to it, and some of the musicians playing it didn’t even smile. But instead of dispatching jazz, they gave it new life as art music, a conception that has kept it going half a century past its commercial zenith. You could say that Charlie Parker was actually an embodiment of Shiva, an agent of destruction and grace. 

Parker’s career was not a long one; he recorded his early sides in 1944, at the age of 24, and died 11 years later. The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection captures him at the moment when bebop emerged, apparently fully formed, in the years right after World War II. Pressed to coincide with the centennial of his birth, this boxed set duplicates four 10-inch records that were originally compiled just as long-playing formats first overtook the 78-rpm single. The beefy cardboard of the sleeves and the modest-yet-palpable heft of the brand-new vinyl may help you drift away into a reverie of past times, but the music itself still bursts with the genius of invention, which cannot be obscured by over seven decades of emulation and evolution. Over and over, jazz has expressed the impulse toward freedom by advancing the language of the time, but the frenetic joy of “Ko-Ko,” “Donna Lee” and “Constellation” still speaks loudly today. 

—Bill Meyer