In this first post 1A, I’ll provide some general introduction, and then offer the first clip. It’s a short one that goes by very quickly, so for paying subscribers I’m also posting 1B, the same clip slowed down, and I will send you the fascinating 1948 Readers Poll pages from Metronome magazine. (Thank you again, paying subscribers!)

Throughout this series, I’ll include links to the best Parker discography/filmography, Peter Losin’s Miles Ahead (so named because it’s also the best Miles Davis research site!). Specialized sites like this provide more info than is possible in Tom Lord’s mammoth database of all jazz recordings (which is also essential, of course).

Of the Charlie Parker footage that survives, only one, the famous “Hot House” television clip with Gillespie, has “live” sound, that is, sound that is being played while the cameras are running. All the others are silent, or have sound added separately, as I’ll explain. It’s a pity there isn’t more. Silent footage, at least, would have been easy to produce at the time. Home movie cameras using 8mm film were fairly common by the late 1940s, even in color, but one rarely encounters a jazz musician who used one. Milt Hinton is probably the best known example.

In addition to the films that survive, Parker is known to have appeared on television several times for which no visual footage exists. However, sometimes people recorded audio from their TV speakers. I’ll mention those as we go along, then summarize everything in a list in the final post of this series.

At the outset, I first want to discuss four rumored items, of which the first two probably never existed, the third happened but was not preserved, and the fourth is probably a misunderstanding:

1. Some years ago a collector in California claimed to have silent home movie footage of Parker and Gillespie at Billy Berg’s club in Hollywood, made during their engagement there from December 10, 1945 into January 1946. But this appears to have been a false claim and no such film ever materialized. (Thanks to leading Parker collector Norman Saks for this information.) Believe it or not, collectors do sometimes make false claims. Usually the goal is to convince another collector to “trade” rare material—and of course the agreement is that the other collector will send his material first. (A collector once told me that he had color footage of Lester Young with Basie in 1938, obtained from Young’s family. As I suspected, this turned out to be a straight-up lie!)

2. There have long been rumors of a film with Parker and the Lionel Hampton band while both were on tour in Europe, but nothing has ever come of this. (Thank you to Mark Cantor, the leading expert and collector of jazz on film, for telling me about this rumor.) It’s not even clear that they were ever in Europe at the same time. However, Parker and Hampton did know each other. There are photos of Bird sitting in with Hampton in New York City, playing a tenor sax that he probably borrowed from someone in the band. These are probably from the Band Box club, which was next to the original Birdland in Manhattan, most likely in late June 1953. Here are the photos:

**3. Bird performed on the Soupy Sales TV show in Detroit three times, perhaps one of them along with Sonny Stitt. Sales, a comedian born in 1926 as Milton Supman, was the most popular TV star in Detroit during the 1950s, for several years hosting a children’s show under various names every day except Sunday on the ABC station at noon, as well as a variety show for adults, “Soupy’s On,” which ran at 11pm, I believe Mondays through Fridays. Wow—he was busy! (Sales later hosted popular shows in other cities, including a very funny children’s show in New York from 1964, which I used to watch.)

**Detroit jazz researcher Mark Stryker confirmed with Sales and his guitarist Joe Messina that Bird did appear, and found that Parker in fact was listed in the Detroit Free Press as being on the program three times in 1954, on April 7, July 16, and July 21! Sales was a lifelong jazz fan whose other evening guests reportedly included, at different times, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie. But no footage survives of any of these, nor of Bird. The only known footage of Clifford Brown is also the only surviving jazz clip from the show. Sales reportedly had a search conducted and discovered that none of the other jazz footage survives.

4. There was a rumor of possible silent footage of Parker painting, from France. I’m pretty sure this never existed, and I’ll explain why in a later post.

Now, about the known TV appearances of Bird: You might wonder why so many television programs have been lost. In fact, most of them were not “lost”—they were never filmed to begin with. Television was invented as a process for transmitting images, not for preserving them. Early television was performed “live.” Broadcasts went out into the air just as radio broadcasts did, and like radio broadcasts, they were not preserved unless they were recorded. The techniques of visual and audio recording were invented separately from TV and radio. In the case of television, “recordings” were sometimes made on 16mm film. The films, known as “kinescopes,” were made by filming a television monitor as the shows were being broadcast “live.” So one couldn’t be spontaneous about this—these had to be planned in advance, as was done for popular series which they intended to show in different time zones, and to re-broadcast later.

So, let’s proceed chronologically, by the date that each film was made. The first clip, pasted above, is from the Metronome Award Show, 21 February 1949, WPIX-TV, NYC. It’s just a couple of seconds long, and you’ll see scrolling toward the right, Parker, bassist Chubby Jackson, and drummer George Wettling. Obviously the music, from a Sidney Bechet recording, has been added. But don’t be fooled—for two reasons, this cannot be footage of the actual TV show that was broadcast: First, it’s in color, and color TV did not exist at the time. (It was invented by about 1950, but was not generally available in the U.S.A. until the 1960s.) Second, you can see the TV camera in the shot! This is silent home movie footage by someone who was in the studio at the broadcast, or possibly just before the broadcast.

Parker appeared on the program in honor of his winning Metronome magazine’s 1948 readers’ poll, by a wide margin. Readers placed their votes in November 1948 (using a ballot page in the magazine that had to be taken out and mailed in). Winners were announced in the January 1949 issue. Here is the first page of results:

I’ll be sending the entire 7-pages of results to paying subscribers—it’s fascinating. But the funny thing is, Jackson was #2 on bass, Bechet was #7 on “miscellaneous instruments,”—and Wettling was tied for #28 on drums! Why were they on this program? Because Metronome considered the all-stars audio recording, not the TV appearance, to be the permanent record of the polls (you may know “Overtime” and “Victory Ball” which were recorded January 3, 1949). For the TV show they grabbed whoever was available and was willing to do it—after all, since these shows were not preserved, they would only reach whoever was watching at the moment.

OK, so I hear you asking, where does this clip come from? In 2009, it was included as a bonus in a 2-CD set called L’Histoire de Sidney Bechet (Vogue/Legacy/Sony in France, catalogue number 88697526292). When the second CD was played on a computer, one could watch a montage of Bechet footage that included this clip. Apparently the footage came from Bechet’s son.

The whole montage, 3:30 in length, has no other shots of Parker. But you might want to watch it, because it includes, in random order, equally short clips of Bechet on various occasions. You will see, flying by, Muggsy Spanier, Eddie Condon, Peanuts Hucko, Cliff Jackson, Buddy Rich, and Gene Schroeder, among others. A knowledgeable Youtube viewer with the user name Maljazz1897 also spotted very short clips taken from the following sources: the silent b&w film of Bechet’s 1951 wedding, “Symphonie Sous Le Ciel,” and also color clips from that event; home movie footage with Jacqueline Peraldi, his “mistress,” as the term was then used, and their son Daniel; footage with clarinetist André Réweliotty from Les Arènes de Lutece; actress and jazz fan Tallulah Bankhead; and something from the rare late ‘50s feature film with Bechet, “Ah! Quelle Equipe.”(Because the clips go by so quickly, I suggest that you change the playback speed in settings to .5 or even .25, and turn off the sound.) You can watch it, with helpful explanation, at the excellent jazz history blog of Fernando Ortiz de Urbana.

**Bechet was on the program, and he is known to have had a home movie camera at times (thank you to researcher Bo Lindström for confirming this), but we can see that he didn’t film this—because the very last shot in the montage is of Bechet, on the other side of the TV camera (this is possibly the continuation of the Parker shot).

Well, that does it for the first clip! See you again soon, with the next Parker clip, or with one of the many other posts that I’m currently working on.

All the best, Lewis Porter

A Bird's Life: How Charlie Parker Changed The Course Of Jazz History