Saturday, August 29, 2009

Charlie Parker (1920-1955)

Charles Parker, Jr.
Born August 29, 1920
Kansas City, Kansas

On today, the 89th anniversary of Bird's birthday, there are so many Parker-related topics I could riff on, but I wanted to talk a little bit about Dial Records - a record label that inexorably linked with the great musician.

Dial Records was founded in Hollywood in 1946 by UCLA alumn, jazz enthusiast, ex-Merchant Marine, pulp fiction writer, and Tempo Music Shop proprietor Ross Russell. Much has been written in praise and critical of Russell - but the simple fact remains that he was responsible for recording some of the most well-known Charlie Parker performances on disc. Tempo was located at 5946 Hollywood Boulevard, between Gower and Bronson right in the heart of Hollywood (don't go looking for the building now, it's a car lot). After witnessing the now legendary Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker performances at Billy Berg's in December 1945 and inspired in part by Milt Gabler's Commodore Records/Record Shop, Russell began the label in early 1946 with what was supposed to be a session from the Gillespie-Parker combo. 16 jazz sessions, nearly all focusing on modern sounds, were recorded through 1948. After that time Russell focused on 20th Century Classical music. Several years later (1953) he even released a few folk and calypso discs. In 1954 the label folded and he sold the jazz masters which have since been reissued countless times. Parker died the following year.

The label was financially backed by Marvin Freeman, an attorney Russell had befriended while both were students at UCLA. Freeman was also responsible for the label's name, taking it from The Dial literary review, an influential transcendentalist journal published from 1840 to 1929. His law expertise was instrumental in seeing that Bird ended up in Camarillo State Hospital rather than harsher incarceration after his notorious 1946 breakdown. Freeman sold his share of the label to Russell sometime in late 1946.

Proto-beat artist, Wally Berman, was responsible for the record label's distinct and remarkably modern design - although it did clearly echo the journal which gave the label it's name. Berman was a Tempo Music customer and designed company letterhead as well as the canary and sepia label. In addition to credits for all of the performers on the disc (not standard practice on 78 records), the label bore the legend "Contemporary American Music" which was a bold (albeit true) statement for a jazz record company in the mid-20th Century.

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