You Go to My Head: A Charlie Parker Review

Charlie Parker; the master of bebop.


Herman’s Herd Big Band

The Woody Herman Big Band (often referred to as Herman’s Herd) was, with the exception of Stan Kenton’s bands, perhaps the most artistically successful of the Big Bands after the Swing Era ended along with the Second World War. Highly disciplined with outstanding musicians, Herman’s bands were ambitious and exciting and featured top soloists like Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. It was, with a few exceptions a White Band, not that Herman cared about race.

Charlie Parker

In 1951, the alto-saxophone genius Charlie Parker, already in very poor health as a result of drugs and alcohol abuse, sat in with the Herman Herd for a recording session. I have failed to find out how this session came about for Parker was already famously unreliable by this time, and his small group music and style were far apart from Herman’s.


Parker however, until his last breath, was a musical giant without a peer and was able to transcend any setting. Throughout this 1951 recording session he is simply astounding and sets the Herman Band on fire. The CD I possess opens with the wonderful ballad “You Go To My Head”.  Parker who had not had much experience with Big Bands in his short career dwarfs every great soloist who ever graced the Herman Herds. The improvised phrases of his solo intervals swoop and soar, incorporating beauty, drama, tenderness and excitement. He is technically awe-inspiring with daring time-keeping. Alternatively plaintive and majestic, he towers over the band. Sadly his genius is too demanding for Americans now befuddled by decades of cultural trash.

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