Life is a collection of wonderful stories. Without stories there wouldn’t be much more than soulless matter. It’s the glue that connects us. One of my favourite musical stories is the one about the night Charlie Parker performed for Igor Stravinsky. The story has many magical layers. The most obvious one is that both men, being geniuses in their own genre, not only knew each other but also had the highest respect for each other’s work. At a 1949 concert in Paris Charlie Parker already incorporated the first notes of ‘The rite of spring’ into his solo on ‘Salt peanuts’.
The second magical layer is that Parker on the spot decided to start this show with ‘KoKo‘. He never started his performances with KoKo. With its incredible tempo the song was too difficult to just start a show with. Yet, on this special occasion, he changed his mind to pay his guest the ultimate respect. But there’s more. Parker not only opened the concert spectacularly, playing Koko as the first song of the night, but also weaved in the opening notes of Stravinsky’s Firebird suite.
Stravinsky of course reacted, showing visible signs of being both delighted and moved. Here’s what fascinates me. I can try to imagine the talent and skill needed to open your set with a breathtakingly difficult song and on the spot weave in someone else’s composition, but I only come close. I lack the skill to fully understand. What i admire even more is the ability to see beyond one’s own community. Genres can be ridiculously closed. Many hardcore metal fans hate Deafheaven because they don’t stick to the ‘agreed’ black metal format. Many jazz musicians knew Stravinsky; of all classical music The Rite of Spring (1913) came closest to the musical language of jazz, but still…
The only story that comes close is the one of Jimi Hendrix playing ‘Sgt. Pepper’s lonely hearts club band’ days after The Beatles released the album with the same title, with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in attendance. Less improvised, but in the same spirit, showing the same mutual admiration and respect.
Why am I telling this? Mainly because I love beautiful stories, but also because they represent the value of investigating unknown and unchartered territory. In this age of social media many people stay within their own community but beauty often lies outside of it. In a variation on the same theme; years ago I was at a festival, on my way to one of the main stages, when I suddenly heard a noisy, bluesy guitar sound. I followed my ears an ended up at a spectacular show. Turned out the be The Noisettes. Sometimes you just have to follow your instinct.Tweet