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Yardbird Suite (1946)

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Origin and Chart Information
“‘Yardbird Suite’ [is] perhaps Parker’s most lyrical composition, and one for which he also wrote a lyric (he called the vocal version ‘What Price Love?’)”

- Gary Giddins

AKAWhat Price Love?
Rank 168
Written by Charlie Parker

During a trip to Los Angeles to play at Billy Berg’s club on Sunset Strip, Charlie Parker made several recordings for Ross Russell’s Dial Records. His septet included trumpeter Miles Davis, tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson, pianist Dodo Marmarosa, bassist Vic McMillan, and drummer Roy Porter. During the first session on November 28, 1946, they recorded “Yardbird Suite,” originally titled “What Price Love?”

Parker had performed his 1940 composition during his tenure with Jay McShann’s Kansas City band which did not record it at the time. McShann wanted to record “Yardbird Suite” in a 1940 session but the producers insisted on blues material. He finally did record the composition, and it can be heard on his 1972 release, Man from Muskogee or the reissue of Hootie.

The tune is named after Parker who acquired his nickname “Yardbird” while with the McShann band. As Brian Priestley explains in Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker, “Accounts of the actual origin differ, but all except Charlie himself seem agreed that the reference was to a chicken intended for the pot. This later became shortened for general usage to ‘Bird,’ although Dizzy Gillespie, when reminiscing about Charlie even late in his life, still tended to refer to him as ‘Yard.’”

An even better story about the nickname (and related by several sources) was told by McShann in a 1999 interview. The pianist said that they were driving to a gig when his car hit a chicken. Parker yelled out, “Back up! You hit a yardbird.” Parker jumped out of the car, collected the chicken, brought it into the Lincoln, and had it cooked for dinner that night.

Several sources mention Parker’s fascination with classical composer Igor Stravinsky. In his book Charlie Parker: His Music and Life Carl Woideck says, “Although Parker generally tended to only write new melodies over preexisting forms, “Yardbird Suite” (its title is evidently a pun on the piece “Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky; Parker had heard part or all of the ballet score several years before) is a wholly original composition in both melody (A and B sections) and chord progression.”

Some have speculated that “Yardbird Suite” was based on the Earl Hines composition “Rosetta,” but Priestley refutes that notion in the notes to his book. “...When recorded in 1946, its second bar is played over IVm-bVII7 but, if ‘Rosetta’ was the chord-sequence, the melody would contain a raised 9th and flatted 9th.”

In Bird Lives! The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie “Yarbird” Parker author Ross Russell (the owner of Dial Records which recorded Parker in 1946) attempted to help Parker by setting up a publishing company to copyright his compositions. But in1954 an attorney hired by Parker “found the matter a hopeless tangle of unexecuted agreements, breached contracts, and uncopyrighted material.”

After Parker’s death in 1955 a legal battle over his estate was pursued by his common-law wife and the mother of his children, Chan Parker, and his previous wife, Doris, whom he’d never divorced. “Summons were served on sixty-nine incredulous and indignant persons and firms in the phonograph record, concert bureau, booking, and music publishing industries....”

Some of his compositions had been sold outright and others were in the public domain and not copyrighted because Parker had never executed the Dial contract authorizing the publishing company. It was a mess, and this explains the discrepancies between the performance dates and copyright dates of Parker’s material. It also suggests that he did not copyright his lyric for “What Price Love?”

Therefore, confusion surrounds the lyrics of “Yardbird Suite/What Price Love?” In his book Visions of Jazz: The First Century, Gary Giddins says that Parker himself wrote a lyric: “‘Yardbird Suite’ [is] perhaps Parker’s most lyrical composition, and one for which he also wrote a lyric (he called the vocal version ‘What Price Love?’)” In his 1990 performance at a Parker tribute (available on DVD as Tribute to Charlie Parker), vocalist Jon Hendricks announces to the audience that the lyric for “What Price Love?” is Parker’s (in the second line Hendricks sings “my” instead of “one’s):

It’s hard to learn
How tears can burn one’s heart
But that’s a thing that I found out
Too late I guess,
Cause I’m in a mess.

Vocalist Sheila Jordan, who knew Parker, told JazzStandards.com that she learned the lyric from a 1948 recording by Earl Coleman, the first singer to record “What Price Love?” Woideck says, “This piece is best known in its instrumental incarnation, but in the 1940’s, singers Carmen McRae and Earl Coleman learned the lyric from Parker.”

McRae performed “Yardbird Suite” often and originally recorded it on her 1955 album By Special Request. However, in the liner notes to a 1991 compilation (Here to Stay) of her early Decca recordings, Dick Katz recalls that on March 12, 1955, he was on stage with Carmen when she performed the song around midnight at Carnegie Hall. “Later we learned that Bird had died that night, perhaps while Carmen was singing Eddie Jefferson’s vocal setting of his tune.” But the lyric which she sang was Parker’s own.

Eddie Jefferson did indeed write a lyric for “Yardbird Suite” and recorded it on his 1969 album Come Along with Me. Jefferson’s lyric is a celebration of bebop and its originators. It begins with these words and does not include the “What Price Love?” lyric or any reference to it:

What is the musical topic of the day?
Bebop so the critics say
Well, that is okay.

Vocalist Giacomo Gates recorded “What Price Love/Yardbird Suite” on his 1995 CD Blue Skies. Although in the liner notes the lyric is credited to Jefferson alone, Gates opens with the Parker lyric before segueing into Jefferson’s. “Originally called ‘What Price Love?’” Gates told JazzStandards.com, “Parker wrote the tune and lyric when he was 19 years old. Eddie Jefferson wrote the alternate lyric... as you know, I sing both. And another set of lyrics were written by Bob Dorough.’

Singer/songwriter/pianist Dorough recorded his lyric on his 1956 debut album Devil May Care. Vocalist Karrin Allyson sang his lyric on her 1995 album Azure Te. Neither album credits Dorough for the lyric which pays homage to the great talent and influence of the alto saxophonist:

His improvisation was miraculous,
Mastermind of rhythm was he,
He blew notes that nobody had ever blown before, till then
Blew ‘em as they’d never been.

Dorough told jazzstandards.com, “When Bird died (March, 1955) I decided to try a ‘vocalese’ on one of his tunes, and I picked ‘Yardbird Suite’ as being songlike and a bit atypical of Parker. I was influenced by the work of Annie Ross and King Pleasure, and I set myself the goal of lyricizing the riff and Bird’s chorus. It was quite a struggle and took several months of living with that piece. Because of legal difficulties I put no claim on the lyric, and the LP said merely ‘Yardbird Suite’ (Charlie Parker). Years later I got some sort of approval from Atlantic Music and a copyright on ‘Yardbird Suite (Charles ‘Yardbird’ Parker Was His Name).’” This explains why Dorough is not credited for the lyric on vocal versions using the original Parker title, “Yardbird Suite.”

Vocalists Vanessa Rubin (in a 1994 tribute to Carmen McRae) and Kevin Mahogany (1995) recorded “Yardbird Suite” with the Parker lyric. Instrumental recordings represent a variety of instrumentation: Modern Jazz Quartet, Heath Brothers, Claude Thornhill Orchestra, the Moscow Saxophone Quintet, saxophonists Frank Morgan and Bud Shank, guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Jodie Christian, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

- Sandra Burlingame

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Musical analysis of “Yardbird Suite”

Original KeyC major with false key changes to E minor and D minor during “B”
FormA1 - A2 - B - A3
TonalityMajor during the “A” sections; “B” is minor
MovementGenerally down by skips (fourths or thirds), ascending by step during the “A” sections; “B” includes some upward leaps of up to an octave.

Comments     (assumed background)

The opening chordal sequence is both unusual and appealing though more decorative than functional; the usual V7-I “circle of fifths” is completely reversed. I is followed by a iv7 chord, which in turn is followed by a bVII (in the original, C - Fm7 - Bb). In this context, one would normally hear the second chord as a ii7 of bIII, but instead, the Bb7chord (bVII) resolves deceptively back to the tonic. The tonic proceeds into a VI - II7 - ii7 - V7 turnaround. The minor “B” section repeats the i - iiř7 - V7 in two keys, starting on the third degree of the tonic scale and descending a whole step and making for an easy and logical return to the original key.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
Musicians' Comments

I love the way “Yardbird Suite” starts on the upbeat and is so melodic. I’ve been wanting to write a song that starts that way myself! The tune is one that you rarely hear done as a vocal piece, yet it’s a joy to sing because it’s so interesting and it swings hard. I was fascinated by the above article, especially to learn that Charlie Parker himself originally penned some lyrics to this melody, calling it “What Price Love”.

Debbie Orta, jazz vocalist
www.debbieorta.com


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Jazz History Notes
Getting Started
CD Recommendations
Listen and Compare
By the Same Writers...

Jazz History Notes

The ranks of Claude Thornhill’s 1947 big band were filled with young Turks like Red Rodney (trumpet) and Lee Konitz (alto) who can be heard soloing on Gil Evans’ innovative arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.”

Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet was a surprise to many, but several other artists tried the same concept with fine effect. A live recording from 1953 with trumpeter Chet Baker (who worked in Mulligan’s group) and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz is a triumph. Baker and Getz work well together, and their spirited rendition of “Yardbird Suite” swings along masterfully.

Another pianoless group was led by drummer Max Roach whose 1957 tribute to his former colleague, composer/alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, is a respectful achievement. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley score high marks for their fine work, as does leader Roach.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian


Claude Thornhill
Snowfall
ASV Living Era CD AJA 572

Stan Getz/Chet Baker
West Coast Live
Blue Note Records 35634

iTunes
Max Roach
Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker
Polygram Records 512448

iTunes
Getting Started
This section suggests definitive or otherwise significant recordings that will help jazz students get acquainted with “Yardbird Suite.” These recordings have been selected from the Jazz History and CD Recommendations sections.

Charlie Parker’s original 1946 recording of “Yardbird Suite” (Genius of Charlie Parker) is wonderful and will forever be the definitive recording of the song and a necessary starting point for those studying it. Among subsequent versions, Max Roach’s 1957 recording (Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker), featuring Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham, is wonderful and provides a stellar example of the development of bop through the 1950s. There are a number of vocal recordings of the song, and Carmen McRae’s 1955 version (Here to Stay) is a standout among them.

Noah Baerman - Jazz Pianist and Educator

CD Recommendations for This Tune
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Charlie Parker
Genius of Charlie Parker
Savoy Jazz
Original recording 1946

Charlie Parker’s original recording of “Yardbird Suite” is simply brilliant, with some definitive bebop soloing by Bird himself. Other soloists shine as well, including Miles Davis on trumpet and Lucky Thompson on tenor saxophone.

iTunes
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro 1947-1949
Classics France/Trad Alive
Original recording 1948

Vocalist Earl Coleman introduces the song here as a vocal number, crooning over a relaxed swing backing that is particularly noteworthy for the work of Fats Navarro on trumpet as well as Don Lanphere on tenor saxophone.

Carmen McRae
Here to Stay
Verve
Original recording 1955

Carmen McRae was one of the jazz vocalists most attuned to the nuances of bebop, so it is no wonder that she performs “Yardbird Suite” with authority here, including some great scatting as she trades phrases with flutist Herbie Mann. The crisp small-group accompaniment includes the accordion (!) of Mat Matthews.

iTunes
Jimmy Smith
Retrospective
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1957

Smith’s all-star quartet takes “Yardbird Suite” at a bright tempo and the intensity is remarkable. Smith takes a phenomenal organ solo, and there are also great solos by Lou Donaldson on alto saxophone and Kenny Burrell on guitar while the propulsive drumming of Art Blakey keeps things cooking.

iTunes
Joe Pass
Chops
Ojc
Original recording 1978

Guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen give “Yardbird Suite” a Latin flavor, and their full, flowing playing makes it easy to forget that this is only a duo.

iTunes

- Noah Baerman

Bud Powell
Bud Plays Bird
1996 Blue Note 37137
Original recording 1958
The love and respect that pianist Powell felt for Parker is palpable here. His crisp fingering and bouncy delivery are the sincerest celebration of Bird and his music.
iTunes
Hampton Hawes
Four!
1997 Original Jazz Classics 165
Original recording 1958
While Hawes includes a version of this song on his Blues The Most album, this one is the more interesting. The pianist almost attacks the keys, barely containing his enthusiasm before guitarist Barney Kessel can take the lead.
iTunes
Roy Hargrove/Christian McBride/Stephen Scott
Parker's Mood
1995 Polygram Records 27907
Original recording 1995
The song takes on a pensive mood played at a slightly slower pace than usual. Hargrove’s horn rings bright, and both pianist Scott and bassist McBride are simply brilliant.
iTunes
Karrin Allyson
Azure Te
Music

Vocalist Allyson scats the opening phrases in unison with Kim Parker’s alto sax before paying verbal homage to Bird and then turning it back to Parker for a hot solo. In this rare vocal treatment of the tune the whole band swings mightily on the arrangement by guitarist Danny Embrey.
iTunes

- Ben Maycock

Written by the Same Composer(s)...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team.

Charlie Parker

Year Rank Title
1945 112 Billie's Bounce
1946 168 Yardbird Suite
1953 218 Confirmation
1947 271 Scrapple from the Apple
1945 354 Now's the Time
1948 488 Parker's Mood
1951 523 Au Privave
1951 587 My Little Suede Shoes
1948 627 Barbados
1946 699 Moose the Mooche
1948 733 Big Foot
1947 748 Relaxin' At Camarillo
1947 799 Chasin' the Bird
1953 810 Bloomdido
1947 859 Dexterity
1947 895 Cheryl
1945 978 Red Cross

Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker

Year Rank Title
1946 483 Anthropology
1945 601 Shaw Nuff

Bennie Harris and Charlie Parker

Year Rank Title
1946 462 Ornithology

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