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Year of the Bird 

Among the jazz albums that were issued this year, or reissued, or compiled and/or repackaged on compact discs, were the following:

Bird--The Motion Picture Soundtrack; the three-CD set of The Complete Charlie Parker on Savoy; Bird at the Roost, volumes one through four; Bebop and Bird, volumes one and two; Bird Songs (Parker tunes played by the quartet Sphere); Charlie Porker at Storyville; Stone Bird (Parker tunes and solos performed in four-part harmony by the group Supersax); The Bird You Never Heard; and the beautifully boxed and effulgently annotated ten-CD set Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, containing every false start, incomplete take, and previously undiscovered alternate in the vaults. In China, this is the year of the dragon; in jazz, it was the year of the Bird, witness to the full-blown resurrection of the jazz deity some 43 years after he imploded.

Of course, all of this stems from Clint Eastwood's film based on Charlie Parker's last years. The film represented the biggest news from the jazz world since Wynton Marsalis started gobbling Grammys, and the reactions to it have settled out into three camps: the film critics, who by and large raved about it; the part-time music critics, who by and large raved about it; and the many full-time jazz writers, jazz musicians, and jazz heads who, for a variety of reasons, think Bird was an off-the-mark travesty that left out too much and included all the wrong stuff. Rest assured, the controversy will continue for years.

As will the idolization of Bird himself. Spurred by the reissues, I've spent more time listening to Parker than at any time since I began listening to Parker, and I find it's a dangerous pastime: each time I start, I quickly spiral into the heart of the oeuvre, until something happens--the phone rings, I get a look at the clock--to snap me out of it so I can return to the present. Each brilliant solo simultaneously roots me to it and spurs me to the next gem, an experience I've otherwise had only with Bach. I can get lost with this music for hours, even days, and after nearly 20 years of hearing it, I'm not less but more amazed each time I hear it again.

But lest there be any doubt about how deeply Parker or his cohorts--notably Thelonious Monk, whose death in 1982 engendered a great deal of notice--have entered the American consciousness, consider this odd turn of events. On Wednesday, November 30, Baroness Panonnica de Koenigswarter passed away. She was a patron of bebop, and it was in her house that Charlie Parker died in 1955--it's in the film--and that Thelonious Monk lived during his last reclusive years.

But the baroness's death did not make the obituary columns of the Sun-Times or the Tribune; neither did the death of Charlie Rouse, the unique and wonderful tenor saxist who was Monk's front-line sideman for a decade, and who played the Chicago Jazz Festival three times in the last four years. A weird coincidence, that two people whose lives were so closely entwined with Monk's should die the same day, but not even that could dent the mainstream American press. Bird lives, and so does jazz, but they remain in the shadows of American life.

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