© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Since Ross Russell's Bird Lives! The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker was first published in 1973, there have been a number of book length treatments on the life and times of Bird including: , Chuck Haddix, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker, Robert Reiser, Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker, Carl Woideck, Charlie Parker: His Music and His Life, Gary Giddins, Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker, Stanley Crouch, Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker, Brian Priestley, Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker and Ken Vail, Bird's Diary: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker. Also of interest might be Chan Parker's autobiography My Life in E-Flat. Recognition should be given to Orrin Keepnews first-rate treatment of the life and times of Charlie Parker first published in 1956 and included in The View From Within: Jazz Writings 1948-1987 [Oxford University Press].
I’ve always been interested in the gestation period that made possible the transition from the swing era to bop and Ross Russell chapter on “The Bebop Laboratory” contains so much detailed information on the subject that I thought it might be of interest to readers of the blog, especially as the influence of Bebop recedes further in the evolution of the music.
Russell’s descriptions and depictions of the formative years of bebop are about the "who, what, when, where and why" of the bebop laboratory and how it created this intriguing and exacting music.
“In New York jazz musicians looking for the action found it in half a dozen after-hours clubs uptown. The most famous of these was Minton's Playhouse, the laboratory in which musical experiments about to emerge as the bebop revolution began around 1941. In spite of its exotic name, Minton's was a drab sort of a place. A marquee extending from the entrance to the curbstone, the latter painted white and zoned as a passenger-loading area, gave the club a faint aura of prestige on otherwise dingy 118th Street. Inside there was the usual checkroom with its divided door and coat racks, a long bar, tables, a wall with mirrors, somewhat the worse for the wear, and a bandstand like those in many of the old Kansas City clubs of Pendergast days [an American political boss who virtual controlled Kansas City from 1925-1939] — cramped, large enough for a baby grand piano and a drum outfit, and, at a stretch, standing room for five or six musicians.
There was no decor of note. Minton's Playhouse was poorly lit, reasonably clean, attractively priced, and out of the way—the kind of place jazz musicians liked. As the word began to get around, taxicabs pulled up to the faded green awning with a frequency enjoyed only by the in-places of those years, taxis that discharged musicians easily identified by the trumpet and saxophone cases they carried. Had the management at Minton's thought to provide a guest book, it would have contained the name of every important jazz figure of the transition years.
The club was named after its owner, Henry Minton, a middle-aged man who enjoyed the slight distinction of having been the first Negro ("colored" was then the official expression) delegate to Local 802, the New York chapter of the American Federation of Musicians. Until late 1940 Minton ran the club by himself. It drew trade from the Hotel Cecil, whose lobby could be reached by a connecting door. In better days the premises had been the hotel dining room. Minton's Playhouse became a hangout for old-timers drifting in and out of the dance band business. There was no real music policy. The baby grand piano often went untouched for days. Business declined steadily until the owner bestirred himself to hire a new manager. His choice was Teddy Hill.
With great reliability and faint distinction, the soberfaced, dependable Hill had played the various saxophones in bands led by the immortal King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. He had written his share of arrangements, composed a few songs (but no hits), and learned the ins and outs of the dance band business. Finally, in mature years, Teddy Hill had become a bandleader in his own right.
Teddy Hill had never quite succeeded in any capacity, but he had been around and he knew a lot of people in the entertainment world and had ideas. "Why not," he told Henry Minton, "hire a house band and build up the jam session business? And," adjusting the dark gray felt hat that he wore in all seasons, indoors and out, to conceal the encircling bald spot on his head, "throw a Monday night feed for artists in the stage shows up at the Apollo? We could put a notice on the call board and invite everybody in the cast." Monday night was show business Sunday. At-liberty night. To Henry Minton the plan sounded worth a try.
"Celebrity Night" at Minton's Playhouse, its dinners hosted by Teddy Hill, quiet and hatted, soon became famous coast to coast. Wherever show folk or jazzmen might be working — at the Howard in Philadelphia or the Regal in Chicago or way out on the Coast at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles — the word was passed. Buffet-style dinners at Minton's mustered up all of the succulent dishes that artists had known from childhood, and could so seldom find on the road: barbecued ribs with real Creole sauce, panfried chicken, collard greens simmered with a hambone, sweet potato pie, candied yams, red beans and rice. Once in a while Hill gilded the lily and flew in a shipment of crawdads from Kansas City or Mississippi River catfish from St. Louis. He raised the price of mixed drinks from twenty-five cents to thirty cents. In 1941 Teddy Hill and Henry Minton were well into the soul-food business. The Playhouse had a new lease on life. Minton's became the place to go on Mondays in the early Forties. It was also the scene of the palace revolution that overturned jazz.
As architect of the music policy at Minton's Playhouse, Teddy Hill took a page from the book of the Kansas City club operators, hiring himself a rhythm section dressed up with a single horn, an open invitation to the jam-minded. Hill could see the ominous ripples troubling the surface of popular music. The old "jazz" of the Twenties, played by the men with whom he had worked, Oliver and Armstrong and the rest, was dead. Swing itself faced serious difficulties. There were new ideas afloat, new voices, a new generation of jazzmen who knew their instruments and could play. Those were the people Teddy Hill wanted to attract to the Playhouse, along with established stars.
To lead the house band at Minton's Teddy Hill hired the very man he had fired less than a year before, Kenny "Klook" Clarke, the drummer whose percussion work had disrupted the last Teddy Hill Orchestra. A year before he had lectured Clarke about "dropping bombs," telling the intransigent young drummer, "Keep your beat down on the bass drum where it belongs. People don't want to hear that kind of stuff. They want music they can dance to." The young drummer had merely glared at him. "Klook," Clarke's nickname, had arisen from the onomatopoetic klook-a-mop, a kind of double bomb, one of Clarke's favorite percussion figures. Now, months after he had fired Kenny Clarke, Teddy Hill thought about the bombs, the jagged, zigzaggy rhythms that somehow worked, and got in touch with the drummer and offered him the contract for the house band at Minton's.
"I was a little surprised when he sounded me," Clarke said later. "After we talked a while I knew what he wanted. In 1937 I'd gotten tired of playing like Jo Jones. It was time for jazz drummers to move ahead. I took the main beat away from the bass drum and up to the top cymbal. I found out I could get pitch and timbre variations up there, according to the way the stick struck the cymbal, and a pretty sound. The beat had a better flow. It was lighter and tastier. That left me free to use the bass drum, the tom-toms and snare for accents. I was trying to lay new rhythmic patterns over the regular beat. Solo lines were getting longer. Soloists needed more help from the drummer—kicks, accents, cues, all kind of little things like that."
Klook suggested a pianist named Thelonious Sphere Monk, a heavy, bearlike, bemused young man who never appeared in public without his "shades" and was one of the first jazzmen to cultivate a goatee. Monk had begun his career as a piano player with a gospel group that worked the church circuit, had seen the Spartan interiors of hundreds of white frame Baptist churches in the South and Midwest, beat upon their tuneless pianos, listened to the hand-clapping, hosanna-shouting congregations as they joined in with the gospel lights he accompanied. Monk was soaked not so much in the brine of the ancient blues as the equally ancient Afro-American gospel song. To maintain his musical integrity during those endless road trips through the heartland of straight-laced Afro-American Monk jammed where and when he could.
Mary Lou Williams reported hearing him one night in a Kansas City after-hours club. Thelonious Monk wanted to get out of the gospel business and to play jazz, but on his own rather demanding terms.
When not on the road Thelonious Monk lived at home with a devoted, doting, permissive, widowed mother, that recurrent tragic heroine in the biographies of so many jazzmen. Mother and son, later a wife and alter-mother named Nellie, lived in a fourth-floor walk-up flat on San Juan Hill, in Manhattan's West Sixties. There was a small Steinway grand piano, acquired by the most exacting household economies, so that Thelonious would have a proper instrument upon which to compose and practice. He had already created several striking new compositions, Blue Monk, Epistrophy, and 'Round About Midnight, with its strange excursions into unlikely signatures. A large mirror attached to the ceiling reflected the keyboard and its action, and that of the strings and hammers.
Thelonious was self-taught from the age of six. Beyond the simplicities of the Baptist hymn book, he did not bother to read music. He played in what appeared to be an awkward style, fingers flat, splayed out on the keys. With Monk one had the feeling of music being crushed out of the instrument, like wine from grapes. Sometimes he hit all twelve keys at once, using the odd thumb to catch two at the same time. Monk held his head at an angle when he played, chin raised, eyes lost behind the dark shades, seemingly listening for the chords and their reverberations. In the privacy of his home he spent hour upon hour at the Steinway, practicing at any time of the day or night, unchallenged by neighbors, testing possible and improbable combinations of sound, peering up through the dark glasses at the mirror of the ceiling, locked into the architecture of the sounds that he roused and the narcissistic image projected by the mirror.
Monk's keyboard texture was thick, but he left a lot of air space between the chords, and the big chords fell at unexpected intervals. The rhythm seemed jagged, like a child hopping squares on the sidewalk, but it swung in the same way that Klook's off-center drumming swung. The chords were churchy and gospel-rooted, with a strong blues tinge, stretched into queer intervals and upper extensions. Monk's harmonic schema seemed to evolve from the midriff of the modes, the flatted fifths, leading him afield into whole-tone scales, a method akin to Charlie Parker's modular attack but with different results. When Monk and Klook worked together the music was disturbing and different, but it cooked. The bass drum coughed out its cannon shots. Sticks danced on the taut drum heads. The sizzle of cymbals insinuated pungent vibrations into every corner of the after-hours club. Caught up in this heady flux were the dissonant, chunky chords from the piano.
Minton's began as a dueling field for encounters between jazzmen of different persuasions. It ended as a bloody battleground where no quarter was asked or given, on which established reputations were demolished and new culture heroes elevated. At the first sessions, in the spring of 1941, when Charlie Parker was still on the road with Jay McShann, the old guard held the balance of power. The old guard could count on the services of a formidable array of improvisers, all famous as soloists with major orchestras: saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, and Willie Smith; trumpeters Lips Page, Cootie Williams, Charlie Shavers, Harry James, and Roy Eldridge; pianists Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy, and Mary Lou Williams. Nor were name bandleaders averse to taking a hand when the brawling got nasty. Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, and Benny Goodman all appeared on the bandstand at Minton's, lending their prestige and efforts to the mounting hue and cry of battle.
Occupying a middle ground between the musical left and right were figures of the transition, pianists Clyde Hart and Tadd Dameron, trombonists Fred Beckett and Dickie Wells, trumpeter Peanuts Holland, tenor men Dick Wilson and Henry Bridges, Jr., and three major figures respected by everyone in
the jazz community, Art Tatum, Lester Young, and Charlie Christian.
The brilliant array of jazzmen from the past, the middle period, and the future did not all appear at Minton's Playhouse on a given night. Sessions were informal and personnel unpredictable. Outside of the men in the house band, nobody got paid. On certain nights there might be a surfeit of saxophonists. On another, all of the trumpet men in the business seemed to be in town and would arrive at the same time; then the walls would shudder with lip trills and double B's.
There were so many names at Minton's that reputations didn't mean anything. Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge had to put up or shut up like everyone else. Once a man had played through his bag and been topped, heard his best lines turned inside out, like the sleeves of an old garment, or used as a starting point for a better solo, there was nothing left except to bottle up and go. It was how you stood up to the challenge, how you responded under pressure, the musical ideas you created then that counted. The rest was mere chord-running, cliche-making, or empty virtuosity. In this witch's broth, sometime between 1941 and 1944, swing dissolved into the new jazz style, bebop.*
[* The word bebop was thought to be onomatopoetic in origin, like klook-a-mop, and in fact may have been derived from the latter. Others said it had been invented by the jivey, irrepressible Fats Waller. Nobody liked it much, least of all the new jazzmen. But it stuck.]
The winds of change sweeping the jazz community blew their hardest during the time of the AFM recording ban. Instead of a record-by-record documentation of the changes in jazz style — the result of the close supervision given by the major labels to the bands under contract — only a handful of imperfect artifacts survive. In May, 1941, amateur engineer Jerry Newman, using a portable turntable, glass-based acetate discs, and a bulky amplifier, recorded at Minton's and Monroe's. Although the originals were badly worn by private playings before their historic worth was realized, they nevertheless afford a dim, scratchy record of those stirring nights. Down on Teddy's Hill with its exhortations of "Go!" and "Blow!" give us some idea of the prevailing excitement and audience participation. There are several choruses, funky and wry, by Thelonious Monk that gave jazz piano a new dimension. The chief soloist is Charlie Christian, playing out the last weeks of his professional life, still in the superlative form that made him a star with Benny Goodman. (Christian succumbed to tuberculosis in March 1942.) The co-star is Kenny Clarke. That Clarke was indeed the founder of the new percussion style is evident. One hears a forcing beat, a delicious complexity of polyrhythms, and an unusual awareness of the needs of the soloist. There is also a bit of John Birks Gillespie, then twenty-three and trying his wings, not yet quite sure of himself or his style. Apart from Clarke's masterful drumming, there is nothing here up to the standard of the Wichita transcriptions or Hootie Blues, with their clear, positive declaration that something new had been added. As good as it was, the music of Clarke and Monk needed a horn.
Charlie Parker was on the bandstand at Monroe's on this and other nights that Jerry Newman recorded. Unfortunately, Newman's tastes in saxophonists ran to orthodox men, Benny Carter and Herbie Fields. Newman did not like Parker's jazz, an opinion in which he was not alone, It didn't seem to swing. The tone was too cutting. The flow of ideas was too rapid for the layman to follow. Newman didn't think of it as jazz at all, but rather as some kind of "Chinese music," as Cab Calloway scornfully called the new style. Newman's equipment, so laboriously lugged to the after-hours clubs, was switched off when it came Charlie's turn to solo. The most assiduous of amateur engineers, Dean Benedetti — whose method was the reverse, to switch off everyone but Parker — would not appear for another year or so.* [*After Jerry Newman's death, his effects would reveal a paper disc on whose faded soundtrack could be heard the unmistakable sound of Charlie Parker's alto playing Cherokee.]
Charlie Parker was not much in evidence at Minton's during its opening months. After leaving McShann, Charlie had established his base at Monroe's Uptown House, 133rd Street and Seventh Avenue, his old hang-out from Parisien Ballroom days. Monroe's was a cabaret with a floor show policy, but after the last show the stage was cleared and a small band led by Vic Coulsen took over. Jamming was encouraged and participating I jazzmen had a kitty to split for their night's work. The kitty was a big inducement for Charlie. On a dull night his share amounted to eighty or ninety cents, barely enough to buy a meal. On a good night, when Harlem numbers men dropped into Monroe's, his share might run as high as eight or nine dollars.
In the fall of 1941 the key men in the brewing bebop revolution began to discover one another. One night the musicians in the house band at Minton's were tipped off that a new saxophonist had arrived in town, a fellow called Bird, or Yardbird, that he was from Kansas City and played like Lester Young, only twice as fast, and on alto saxophone. Nobody believed this. Lester was the top man on saxophone. There had been no new statement on the alto since Johnny Hodges appeared with Duke Ellington ten years before.
Still, the story had to be checked out. One night Kenny Clarke and Thelonious Monk decided to see for themselves. On the bandstand at Monroe's they found a man younger than themselves, wearing sunglasses in sport frames, an unpressed suit and rumpled shirt, playing one chorus after another as if his life depended on it. The mordant tone, the precise articulation of the notes, the vehemence with which each was played, the breath-taking speed with which the horn was gotten over, these were all new to the idiom.
"Bird was playing stuff we'd never heard before," recalls Clarke, now an elder statesman of jazz and living in Paris. "He was into figures I thought I'd invented for drums. He was twice as fast as Lester Young and into harmony Lester hadn't touched. Bird was running the same way we were, but he was way out ahead of us. I don't think he was aware of the changes he had created. It was his way of playing jazz, part of his own experience. Bird didn't talk much. He was quiet and reserved, in fact rather meek. We laid a few dollars on him and got him to move from Monroe's down to Minton's. Teddy Hill refused to put another man on the payroll, so we decided to pool our money and give him an allowance. I invited him to the pad I shared with Doc West, another drummer and a good cook. We set him up to meals. He could really eat. He was thin and half starved. He was trying to live off the kitty at Monroe's.
"Pretty soon Minton's got to be a bad place for older cats. Dizzy began coming up regularly and that gave us the four key instruments — trumpet, alto, piano, and drums. That, plus a good bass, was the band of the future. One night, after weeks of trying, Dizzy cut Roy Eldridge. It was one night out of many, but it meant a great deal. Roy had been top dog for years. We closed our ranks after that.
"To make things tough for outsiders, we invented difficult riffs. Some of our tunes used the 'A' part of one tune, like I Got Rhythm, but the channel [bridge or release] came from something else, say Honeysuckle Rose. The swing guys would be completely hung up in the channel. They'd have to stop playing. After we closed Minton's we'd eat and play until the next morning at Monroe's. There wasn't any prospect that the music would ever come to anything. It was a way of letting off steam and having fun."
During this period of high creativity Charlie Parker was living a hopelessly disorganized life. He lived from hand to mouth, on cadged and proffered meals, in strange beds, and changed his address often. His clothing frequently gave the impression it had been slept in. More often than not, that was the case. Sometimes his horn was in hock, so that he was obliged to play on a borrowed instrument. For this reason he always kept his reed and mouthpiece detached from the saxophone and carried them in his pocket. Despite his lack of funds, Charlie had begun to experiment with hard drugs. They were as easily obtained in New York as they had been in Kansas City. Every Harlem block had its insinuating pusher, eager to encourage new habits and nurse them through their incubating period, on credit if necessary, especially if the user showed promise of success in the music business. Caps of heroin or morphine could be bought for prices ranging from fifty cents to three dollars, depending upon one's state of affluence. A cap of white powder, heated in an old teaspoon, converted into a colorless liquid, and injected into a vein, would produce a state of euphoria lasting twelve hours or more. That was enough to carry one through the essential part of the day. It was more important than food, or a decent room. And what a euphoria it was! Compared to heroin, the kicks derived from marijuana, from nutmeg floated on top of a soft drink, from benzedrine inhalers soaked in sweet wine were kid stuff.
Narcotics had always been as much a part of the jazzman's culture as gangsters, pimps, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunken customers who requested Sweet Adeline. Many jazzmen had given heroin a try and backed off, frightened by its powerful effects and the admonitions of those who had become hooked. Charlie had seen his share of junkies in Kansas City. He had first tried the drug there. It had been included in the various experiments undertaken with his teenage friend, drummer "L'il Phil," who had become a drug peddler and heroin addict. Returning to Kansas City from a road trip with McShann, Charlie heard the story of L'il Phil's tragedy. His friend had gone out with a territorial band for a tour of the Deep South. Ill with withdrawal symptoms, wandering about in a state of confusion, the drummer had become separated from his fellow musicians and left behind in a small Mississippi town, where he was arrested, hauled before a local court, judged insane, and remanded to an asylum. After months of useless treatment the sick man had been released — literally turned into the street. Ragged, penniless, suffering from amnesia, L'il Phil had wandered and begged his way through the South before turning up by chance many months later in Kansas City.
The deeply disturbing example of his old comrade did nothing to curb Charlie's persistent dabbling with drugs. Charlie's attitude was conditioned by the discovery that his physiology, uniquely resilient in so many ways, could tolerate heroin far better than most. Junkies were usually detached and on the nod. They had no appetite for food, and less for sex. They shunned alcohol as if it were poison. Charlie experienced none of these reactions. His appetites went unchecked. He could drink and he could eat like a horse and run after all of the women that interested him. At Monroe's, where the management stood drinks, he would start the night with two double whiskeys, and continue to down shots between sets. Nor was there ever a time when he could not play.
Drugs allayed the pressure he suffered from the lack of steady work, the public indifference to his music, his contradictory, indeed ridiculous role — a creative artist composing and improvising in a night club. Drugs screened off the greasy spoon restaurants and cheap rooming houses with their un-swept stairs and malodorous hall toilets. Drugs kept him out of the military draft: an army psychiatrist had taken one look at the needle marks on his arm and immediately classified him as 4-F. Heroin became his staff of life. The monkey on his back kept the outside world off it. Like all who meddled with drugs, Charlie believed that he could kick the habit at his own convenience.
He experimented with goof balls (phenobarbital) to decelerate his highs and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. The score became the most urgent task of each day. He learned the trick of borrowing small amounts of money, a dollar or two, sums too small to be remembered. His lifestyle was hardening into a mold he would never succeed in breaking. Except for a single factor, there was nothing to distinguish Charlie from hundreds of other Negro youths who had been drawn to New York City and were drifting aimlessly about the streets of Harlem, in imminent danger of being swallowed by the underworld. That factor was the saxophone.
Charlie had turned twenty-one. However precariously, he had established himself in the underground of the city of his dreams. He was dug in on the front line. He was learning to live from one day to the next, without a five-cent piece in his pocket, without the slightest concern of the morrow. A place to sleep, alcohol, drugs, sexual outlets, food — these were his material needs. These and a place to play amounted to the total fulfillment of his life. The prescored hype, the act, con, guile, the small loan and, above all, the mania to play harder and longer than anyone else were all the currency he needed. He had no welfare check, no unemployment insurance, no job, no money, but he was making out. And he was into fresh musical discoveries every night.
He was fast becoming a legend in the jazz underground. Musicians from traveling bands were steered uptown to hear him perform. They were amazed by his ability to improvise from any tune or sort of musical material. One night three notes were struck at random on the piano. Charlie immediately resolved them into a melody, clothed them in a harmonic pattern, and played several choruses ad lib. Another night a key on his saxophone broke. He sent the waiter to the kitchen for a teaspoon, and with the bent spoon and a rubber band from his pocket soon had the horn back in playing condition. Listeners went away shaking their heads. On the road they spread the word about the fabulous unknown alto saxophonist, a young Mozart spouting forth melodies by the yard at an obscure club in upper Harlem. The legend began to proliferate.
On bitter winter nights Charlie would drop into the Braddock Bar, a musicians' hangout next to the Apollo Theater. The bar operated on a two-for-one policy, and Charlie had discovered a way to cadge free drinks. If a customer ordered a whiskey, he would be poured two shots and a chaser. The second glass would sit on the bar and sometimes be overlooked in the general confusion of a busy night. Charlie would cruise up and down the bar, his pockets empty, downing "sleepers." The gambit was acceptable to those who knew him, but was not well taken by strangers. One night he was caught in the theft and called to account by a group of Harlem toughs. Either he would stand them all a round of drinks, or they would take him out the back entrance of Braddock's onto 126th Street and teach him a lesson. Charlie talked fast. He was getting nowhere until he remembered that the current attraction at the Apollo was the Jay McShann Orchestra. "Give me ten minutes," Charlie told the toughs. "You'll have your round of drinks."
Then he went to the stage door and sent a note in to Gene Ramey.
Luckily, the band was between stage shows and his old friend was available. Ramey appeared, shocked at what he saw. "Bird was thin and drawn. He looked like an unmade bed. It was six degrees below zero and Bird was wearing a T-shirt, no socks, and an expensive black overcoat. He was in a serious jam at the Braddock and needed two dollars to bail himself out of trouble." * [*Interview in Jazz Review, November 1960]. Ramey advanced the money and Charlie made good the round of drinks.
Later that night he was on the bandstand at Minton's, playing his solos with the black overcoat still on his back to conceal the fact that his only suit was in pawn. It was a beautiful coat, fleece-lined, with a fur collar. A lucky match for his size, 44-short, it had been purchased for a few dollars from an acquaintance who made a living as a shoplifter.
Despite his insecure way of life, perhaps because of it, Charlie married for the second time. He had been divorced two years after the birth of Leon by his first wife, Rebecca Ruffing, who had been awarded a weekly alimony of five dollars, a sum that Charlie paid reluctantly, intermittently, and then not at all. Charlie's second marriage was to Geraldine Marguerite Scott of Washington, D.C. A stunning girl, Geraldine loved the glamour of clubs and nightlife. The marriage survived on very uncertain terms. The Parkers had no real home other than hotel rooms and boarding houses. Geraldine was an in different housekeeper, and most meals were taken out. The liaison dissolved itself within the first year and Charlie went back to the old, irresponsible, nomadic way of life that he had been following since his middle teens. Charlie's future liaisons notwithstanding, no record was ever produced of his having divorced wife number two.
By mid-December Charlie's condition was cause for alarm. Fellow musicians realized that something practical would have to be done. Trumpeter Benny Harris undertook to get Charlie on the payroll of the Earl Hines Orchestra; tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson had given notice, and the leader was looking for a replacement. Harris began "preaching Bird" to Hines. One night, after closing at the Savoy, the trumpeter talked Hines into making a trip uptown and acted as a guide for a party that included Hines, Harris, Johnson, vocalist Billy Eckstine, saxophonist Scoops Carry, and Count Basie. They found Charlie at Monroe's Uptown House. He was in superlative form. Chorus followed upon chorus. If Charlie was high it didn't show, or at least Hines wasn't aware of it. The band leader was impressed. "He's fine," Hines told Harris, "but that's not going to help us much. This fellow plays alto saxophone. What I need is a tenor man."
After the set Harris brought Charlie to the table and Hines asked if he could play tenor. Charlie said that he could. Did he own a tenor saxophone? He did not. In fact, the alto he had that night was borrowed.
"All right," Hines said. "I'll buy you a tenor saxophone. You can join us tomorrow." Hines stripped a ten-dollar bill off the impressive roll carried by bandleaders on their talent scouting trips, told Charlie to buy himself a clean shirt, and wrote down the address of the studio in midtown Manhattan where the band was rehearsing for its next engagement.”