A loose, sketched illustration of a black vinyl LP, framed by the words 'Murakami on Charlie Parker' in gold

‘Just listening puts a big smile on my face’: Haruki Murakami on Charlie Parker

Murakami is well-known as a jazz aficionado, and Charlie Parker has had a long influence on his writing – as this playful, never previously published essay about the musician demonstrates. Murakami also writes about Bird in his new short story collection, First Person Singular.

The musicians featured on the Bird and Diz album were a strange mix to be sure. Dizzy Gillespie and bassist Curley Russell were solid and steady professionals.  But then the producer, Norman Granz, brought drummer Buddy Rich to the impromptu session, and Bird (Parker) invited Thelonious Monk, who was out of work at the time. It was a cobbled-together quintet that seemed to have little in common.

Buddy Rich was the most popular drummer of the day, a musician of unparalleled technique who commanded equally eye-popping fees. In sharp contrast, Monk’s avant-garde music still mystified most people: lacking fans and gigs, he went his silent way playing what he liked. Anyone could have predicted their styles would be like oil and water. Uncomprehending and uninterested in what the other guy was all about, they simply did their own thing, pursuing their own musical goals.

'The excess gives the session its unique flavour, and makes it so much fun'

Although Rich’s drumming definitely annoys at times, if you listen closely you come to realize that it never interferes with the music as a whole. That is because he is so adept at pulling back at those critical junctures when the other musicians step forward. He wasn’t a star drummer for nothing, after all. This may speak to Norman Granz’s rare talent as a producer. Just listening to the brushes caress the cymbals in the introduction to “Bloomdido,” the first cut on Bird and Diz, puts a big smile on my face. Not bad, huh?

I planned to write about Charlie Parker, but I ended up writing about Buddy Rich instead.

Image: Mica Murphy / Penguin

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