This is a tale of two records. Actually, two sets of records. Both by the same artists. Both on the same record label. Both taken from the same sessions. One available now at you local record store for whatever a two-record set commands, the other impossible to find.
The packages in question are "Charlie Parker: The Very Best of Bird" and "Charlie Parker." The former is a two-record set culled from the best of the latter, which has six records and includes all the tracks Parker cut for Dial Records between March of 1946 and December 1947. This output is generally considered to be the pinnacle of Parker's recording career and a major album event - so major that Warner Brothers decided to make it historic. By making it practically unavailable.
Last year, word filtered through the music industry that Warners was readying a larger Parker package that would be in the stores for Christmas. The hitch was that the music would come in a limited edition. No promotional copies for press and radio stations, no freebies for publicity, no personals to company executives, and only several thousand printings for the whole universe to divvy up. To the layman, several thousand sounds like a lot, but remember that one local Korvettes can sell several thousand Fleetwood Mac albums in one week.
Initial reaction to the announcement was an "I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it" type of response from record people, and anticipation tempered by suspicion from jazz freaks. The fact is that even Charlie Parker doesn't command enough clout to get a peripheral buyer to shell out the cost of a six-record box. So everyone waited.
And waited and waited, until Christmas came and went and there was no sign of "Bird." The talk went low-profile until recently when word went out again and, this time, showed signs of reality.
For one thing, there was the release of the two-record set and, for another, Warner Brothers showed a marked increase in its jazz output. Besides their original artists (George Benson, Pat Martino, David Sanborn, Flora Purim, etc.), the label marketed Bill Evans and picked up distribution of the entire ECM line. Obviously, push was coming to shove.
Then there it was; and then there it wasn't. Within a day or two of its release, the set had vanished from sight. It was truly a limited edition.
The surpirse at what was already an announced fact was understandable. Record companies put out "limited editions" with unlimited regularity for use in promotional campaigns, or as publicity gimmicks, or to lure collectors into buying a record they wouldn't ordinarily walk around the corner for. Right now, for example, there are "limited editions" of several rock albums on colored vinyl and the Rolling Stones have a longer "limited edition" version of their hit single "Miss You." All those items are readily available.
"Charlie Parker," on the other hand, lived up to its advance billing: six records with a 20-page booklet that includes specially commissioned art work and biographical information; 4,000 pressing.Period.
Most major record stores in this area got two copies. Some got none. No store can recorder it. The six-record set (which sold for between $29 and $50 depending on the store) became an instant collector's item.
The scramble for the existing copies had even veteran record-store owners shaking their heads. Several store managers wouldn't believe they couldn't reorder it until it was obvious that Warners was simply ignoring pleas for more. Warners had no sympathy because it didn't have any records, either. Neither headquarters on either coast had any left after release day.
"There are a lot of company people who don't have one and just aren't going to get one," admitted one regional promotions person. Even the jazz stores were clean.
Ira Sabin, who stocks his own store primarily with jazz albums, and who can generally come up with anything, laughed at the idea of getting a few of the Parker sets.
"Are you kidding? That package is selling in New York right now for $200. No one's go any.Anywhere."
Which leaves us with "The Very Best of Bird," not a bad compromise at all. Since this is akin to "Charlie Parker" 's greatest hits, there isn't a loser in the bunch.The album is also a perfect introduction to people curious about Parker and wanting a sampling of his peak work. "The Very Best of Bird" dispels any preconceived notions of bebop players rumbling along at breakneck tempos through inaccessible melodies.
Bird lays out on "Embraceable You," "My Old Flame," "How Deep Is the Ocean" and others and gets incomparable support from people like Miles Davis, Max Roach, Errol Garner, Barney Kessel and Duke Jordan. There's also the incomparable Parker lyricism summed up in one incredible 47-second break, included here alone the complete.
"The Very Best of Bird" is a welcome find for anyone's jazz collection, but those still not satisfied can get the six records contained in "Charlie Parker," without the trappings (and prestige), as an import: "Charlie Parker on Dial," Vol. 1 to 6, on Spotlite Records.
No matter how much music you get, it is all a welcome expansion of the Parker catalog; a pleasurable addition that is unlimited.