The Jazz Foundation of America, the 31-year-old New York-based non-profit serving the jazz community, will continue its fundraising efforts on behalf of musicians affected by the pandemic with “Bird Calls,” a glittering December 10 livestream celebrating the centennial birthday of alto saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker.
The two-hour all-star show – recorded at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York, Vibrato Grill in Los Angeles, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum observing strict health safety protocols – will benefit the JFA’s COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund, established in March to provide direct financial assistance to musicians and families affected by the pandemic to help cover basic living expenses. That effort kicked off with the May 14 livestream “#TheNewGig.”
“The pandemic continues to present our music community with some of the greatest challenges it has ever faced. Persistent economic uncertainty, dwindling work opportunities, and limited options for relief have devastated the lives of many working musicians. In response—following strict safety protocols—we were honored to convene a spectacular lineup of musicians to celebrate Charlie Parker's centennial and bring attention to the needs of our community,” says JFA executive director Joe Petrucelli. “’Bird Calls’ pays tribute to a peerless artist and musical genius by capturing stunning performances and heartfelt reflections at an extraordinary moment in our shared history. Most important, it will raise funds for COVID-19 assistance, as JFA continues to provide support for basic living expenses like rent, groceries, and utility bills to artists and families across the country struggling under these harrowing circumstances.”
“Bird Calls” will stream on the live concert platform FANS (FANS.LIVE/BIRDCALLS
) at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 10, with a replay at 8 p.m. PT.
The forthcoming event will commemorate the Aug. 29 centenary of bebop titan Parker, who wrote his name large in jazz history during a furiously creative decade before his untimely death at 34 in 1955. Jazz critic Gary Giddins has noted that Parker was “the only musician after Louis Armstrong to influence all of jazz and almost every aspect of American music – its instrumentalists and singers, composers and arrangers.”
Musician-producer Steve Jordan, the JFA’s co-artistic director with his wife Meegan Voss, says of the decision to honor Parker, “If you’re the Jazz Foundation of America and you don’t celebrate Bird’s centennial, then you must not be the Jazz Foundation of America.”
Repertoire for the concert would be drawn from a brace of Parker-penned jazz standards. Jordan says he approached the enlistment of talent for “Bird Calls” with one thought in mind: “I wanted to start with the premier alto players of the day.”
He continues, “Then we started putting together rhythm sections for the different saxophone players, so that it wasn’t just one house band backing up a bunch of different players – that becomes kind of one-dimensional. This music has a lot of personality, and we didn’t want it to flatline out there, and when you have all these greats at your disposal, it’s a blessing. We were able to get some really great players involved.”
For the performances captured at Brooklyn Bowl – the latest product of the JFA’s partner relationship with venue owner and music impresario Peter Shapiro – Jordan brought in a top-flight group of altoists: Antonio Hart, Vincent Herring, Miguel Zenón, Tom Scott, Jaleel Shaw, and Japan’s Erena Terakubo.
Collective personnel for the New York date is also impressive: pianists Kenny Barron, George Cables, Bill O’Connell, and Dave Kikoski; bassists Buster Williams, Kim Clarke, Kiyoshi Kitagawa, David Wong, and James Genus; drummers Jordan, Billy Hart, Nasheet Waits, and Craig Haynes (son of Roy Haynes, who himself played behind Parker); trumpeters Jimmy Owens and Keyon Harrold; and guitarist Russell Malone. Nioka Workman’s Firey String Sistas guest on a performance saluting Parker’s “Bird With Strings” recordings for Verve.
The legendary jazz singer Sheila Jordan makes a stellar vocal appearance on “Confirmation.” Jordan says, “She met Bird when she was just a kid, and he changed her life. She ended up marrying Duke Jordan, who played piano with Bird – he used to stay at their place. They had a very deep, long-lasting relationship. She regaled us with tremendous Bird stories. We could make a whole program just out of her interview. It was really incredible. After speaking with her about Bird, I feel like I know him better now.”
Roy Haynes and Sonny Rollins also offer their first-hand recollections of working with Parker. Jordan says, “The stories that we got from people who are still with us are so compelling that it’s allowed us to present personal and meaningful stories . We’re bringing some new, never-before-seen material – at every event we try to give the public something that they haven’t seen.”
A pair of veteran alto stars were recorded at Herb Alpert’s intimate L.A. Jazz club Vibrato. Gary Bartz is supported by an equally first-rank band of pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Alex Al, and drummer Roy McCurdy, while Tom Scott is backed by pianist Tom Rainier, bassist Chris Colangelo, and drummer Gary Novak.
In a return to “the Cradle of Jazz,” the JFA secured a performance by the Crescent City’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which has been infusing its hometown's traditional sounds with bebop and funk for more than 40 years. Jordan says, “We featured the Hot 8 Brass Band on our first virtual gig, and they were a great contributor – their energy at the top of the show really set the tone, and we really wanted to bring that kind of spirit again with the Dirty Dozen. Petr Verner, who heads our New Orleans office and looks out for our New Orleans musicians, organized it, and got a great performance.”
“Bird Calls” will also feature special appearances by JFA Board Member Danny Glover and GRAMMY-winning historian Phil Schaap, along with archival material focusing on Charlie Parker’s contributions to American music.
Summing up the JFA’s ongoing objectives, Jordan says, “Raising money for the JFA’s COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund is still our driving force. With this event we have an opportunity to celebrate a person who is very much at the foundation of this music that we love and who has inspired us for so long. To celebrate Bird is a wonderful thing, and hopefully it will be indicative of a light at the end of the tunnel in the immediate future.”
Supporters of the COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund to date include an inspiring range of individual fans from around the world showing their compassion and appreciation for musicians; institutions including the Herb Alpert Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, and other arts philanthropists addressing unprecedented need in the jazz ecosystem; and, critically, the music industry itself supporting its own in a time of crisis. A consortium of record companies in the jazz world including Mack Avenue Records, Blue Note Records, Amazon Music, Warner Music Group, Concord Jazz, and The Verve Label Group, has been pivotal to this urgent and growing effort.