We've shown you two exceedingly rare pieces of footage that capture jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker in action: one featuring him playing with Dizzy Gillespie, his fellow "founding father of bebop," in 1952; and another, from two years before, where he plays with the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Lester Young, and Ella Fitzgerald. But since so little motion-picture material of Parker exists, his fans must have savored even seeing just the sheet music of his piece "Confirmation" animated when we posted it last year, alongside other such videos bringing to life the notation of works by greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. "To see it animated," wrote Josh Jones, "is to see Parker dance a very different step than Miles’ post-bop cool, one filled with complex melodic paragraphs instead of chordal phrases." Indeed.
And the source of those videos, Dan Cohen's Youtube channel Animated Sheet Music, has even more Parker in store. Here you can also enjoy Cohen's animations of "Au Privave," that 1951 bebop standard with the mysteriously un-French French title, and Parker's 1953 blues "Bloomdido." These will, naturally, provide a rich watching and listening experience to those well-versed in the mechanics of both music notation and the forms of jazz, but even if you know nothing at all about either subject, these animations more than repay the short time spent. If you'd like to get less an explanation than a feel of how sheet music works, and indeed how jazz works, you could do much worse than getting it through a visualization of Parker's inimitable playing — and you might well come away with just a little bit more of a grasp on what, exactly, makes it inimitable in the first place. "After spending several hours precisely timing Charlie Parker's eighth and sixteenth notes," writes Cohen, "I have come to the conclusion that the dude can swing." Indeed.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.