Bertha Hope on Charlie Parker


1) Charles McPherson and Steve Coleman

2) Tom Harrell and Mark Turner

3) John Scofield

>>> 4) Bertha Hope

5) Live Bird is the Best Bird (by Mark Stryker)

6) Bird is the Word (five famous solos and commentary)

7) Words about Bird (reception history, featuring Hampton Hawes)

(This was a phone call on August 24, 2020. I was talking to Bertha about something else, but then thought to ask her if she had ever seen Charlie Parker in person. She had, so I hit record.)

Bertha Hope: I saw Charlie Parker in Los Angeles in 1953 at the Shine auditorium. He was part of a package deal. When I got my tickets, oh my god, I was so excited. 

That night at the auditorium we all waited to see Bird. When the announcer finally said, “Ladies and gentlemen: the great Charlie Parker!” we all clapped. But nothing happened. The curtains were drawn, nobody came out. After we stopped clapping, there were murmurs in the crowd. After a while, the announcer said it again: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the great Charlie Parker!” But, again, nothing. Nobody came out, the curtains didn’t open.  

It felt like the announcer was about to say it one more time, but then there was rustling, you could see the curtains moving. Someone was looking for the spilt between the two curtains. And rather than the curtains opening, he came out. Charlie Parker found his way between the curtains and came out to the front of the stage.

The whole auditorium started screaming. It was like the theatre was going up in flames, but instead of, “Fire!” we were yelling, “Charlie! Charlie Parker!!” He looked good in a beautiful dark grey suit, and he bowed while the curtains finally opened and revealed the band behind. The first song was “Now’s the Time.” I was so excited to see him person I was jumping in my seat. 

I was seventeen, and was just starting to move away from listening to Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne and what they called West Coast Jazz, and starting to get into Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. So it was the perfect time for me to actually get to see Charlie Parker live, for of course Charlie Parker was such a big influence on all those kinds of musicians. 

Charlie Parker was a master of harmony, but he also had such a beautiful tone and was so expressive on the instrument. There was so much emotion in everything he played. He was set apart from all the horn players, far ahead of what had happened before him. It was a new point of view, a new way to handle the changes, a new way to phrase melodies.

Despite all he could do on the instrument, he really had a way with a melody. You can hear that on Bird with Strings.  I like what he does with a simple melody — “Star Eyes,” “Just Friends,” “My Little Suede Shoes” — he can make them come off the page and give them a different look, a different sound, a different feel.

Sometimes he would play ahead of the piano player, like he’d be in the next chord a few beats early. That kind of harmonic thinking propelled the music forward. It was so exciting to listen to. 

I was so shocked when he died. Such a big loss.  I didn’t know Nica yet. When I got to New York a few years later I learned about how important Nica was for so many musicians. There was also some mystery about Charlie Parker’s death, like about how long it took for his death to be made public. These kinds of mysteries are attached to the lore of the music itself. There was a hidden lifestyle that I wasn’t privy to.

Charlie Parker still sounds as fresh as could be. In fact, I think I listen to him now even more than I used to. I hear things that I didn’t hear before. His music is perennial, it will be studied for a long time, there are still things to learn from Charlie Parker. I could listen to Charlie Parker all day long. 

Ethan Iverson: Dewey Redman told me, “Charlie Parker sounds better every day.”

BH: Absolutely. If Charlie Parker was all I had to listen to, I wouldn’t be disappointed. 

(go on to part five, “Live Bird is the Best Bird” by Mark Stryker)