Fred Coots, born in New York’s Brooklyn (1897-1985) was a prolific writer of melodies and Broadway Shows. He is best known for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” but his finest compositions were “For All We Know”, “Love Letters in the Sand” and the outstanding “You Go to My Head”. This plaintive and romantic song, with lyrics by Haven Gillespie, was movingly recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938 and later in the 1960’s by Judy Garland.
In 1951 alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, whose career and health were already in rapid decline thanks to his drug addiction and destructive chaotic lifestyle, stepped before the very professional Woody Herman Big Band and recorded a number of ballads and Herman originals. We know that Parker by this time was incapable of turning up on time for a performance and very unlikely to rehearse. He has last played with a big band in his formative years. Yet he was seemingly incapable of playing any material in any setting without reaching incredible heights of inventiveness, technique and taste.
My recording of Parker playing “You Go To My Head” with the Herman Band of 1951 only catches Parker’s performance as he is about to start the bridge yet what follows is breathtaking as he embellishes, quotes lines of melody, plays fast chromatic runs across the chord sequence and then soars majestically above the band. Like almost everything he ever played in his short life this rendition is moving, exhilarating, beautiful and dominating. Sadly, today’s jazz musicians, reduced by music education to formulaic improvisation, and ignorant of the content of the Great American Songbook, will never produce another Parker. Turn the musical clock back and enjoy the Master.