[Dixielandjazz] "Cherokee," Alphonse Picou, Bird, etc.

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Tue Apr 6 16:10:35 PDT 2004

Ray Noble's "Cherokee" had a well-known cameo spot in swing history when
Charlie Barnet's 1939 hit recording of the tune. I didn't know about the
Basie record with the tough bridge missing.

I've never found the Barnet record very interestsing but the song caught
the attention of a lot of players and ironically was important in the
development of modern jazz--because of its challenging chords, not the

Charlie Parker's classic "Ko-Ko" of about 1945 substitutes some
free-jamming at the beginning for about 24 bars for the melody, then goes
on at breakneck speed with Bird's incredibly inventive jamming and Max
Roach playing what became the model for bebop drumming.  Bird quotes from
Alphonse Picou's "High Society" solo, claiming later that he'd never heard
of the famous clarinet solo--which seems odd to me.

There's another "Cherokee"-based side from the same session I think, called
"Warming Up s Riff." There's neither melody nor riff, but a track that
begins with a fade-in of Parker's jamming at a fast but not outrageous
clip. Joyful, joyful music, with Max even guffawing on hearing some of the
great stuff Bird was playing. It peters out at the end, being basically a
warmup jam that went particularly well.

For decades, playing "Cherokee" and high speed was one of the acid tests
for accomplished modern jazz players at jam sessions. Unfortunately, some
musicians thought it was all about speed, flashiness, running the changes,
high notes, virtuosity, etc. Of course, players like Bird and Diz had all
that but the center of what was happening was the passion and shape of
their ingenious ideas. They had that in common with Picou, Louis, and other
greats from earlier jazz styles.

Charlie Suhor

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