Saturday, May 30, 2009

Biddy Fleet (1939)

Biddy Fleet, 1940s, D'Angelico guitar
Photographer unknown
Used by permission by James H. Fleet

I recently read Brian Priestley's compact biography of Charlie Parker Chasin' the Bird. While I have been a longtime fan of Parker's recordings, I felt like taking a deeper dive into his history. Priestley give considerable ink to what had only been a footnote in most Parker biographies I had encountered to date; namely, the role that guitarist Biddy Fleet played in the Bird's exploration of melodies found in the extensions of the chords. Checking the endnote's I realized Priestley's source for Fleet's info was one of my favorite books about music ever - Ira Gitler's EXCELLENT oral history of the development of modern jazz, Swing to Bop. Referencing that book, I realized Fleet's interview runs a couple of pages and is a filled with great information about the era, Parker, and the guitar.

The guitar in jazz for years seemed to me to be such a post-modern instrument. Looking back now, perhaps I thought this because I was simply just so familiar with the guitar in a rock context and viewed instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, piano, upright bass, drums with some degree of romantic allure. "Discovering" bebop at the age of 21 with 7 odd years of guitar playing behind me, it just did not seem like my instrument was part of the pantheon. Bebop guitarists were for the the most part footnotes in the books and LP liner notes I read (pre 'net days naturally), and the few jazz guitarists I knew were more interested in people like Joe Pass and beyond.

One of the joys of returning to the guitar has been digging deeper into people like Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore, Bill De Arango, Chuck Wayne, etc. Information is so much more accessible now as are obscure recordings many of which 15 years ago were still only available as fragile second-hand shellac 78s. So, I was thrilled to find this small piece of history this morning while looking for some online images of Charlie Parker. Not only can I now put a face to the name Biddy Fleet, but now I can start to fill out his biography.

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