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Archive of correspondence with an emotive typed letter, signed
New York and Los Angeles: , 1950-2. 12 pages of correspondence, including 5 original letters, one over the signature of James C. Petrillo, as president of the American Federation of Musicians; three with the autograph ink-stamp of Charles R. Iucci, secretary of New York, Local 802 of the AFM, and an original telegram sent by him; a claim form against Parker made out by Elmer Fain, "business representative" of Local 767 in LA; together with Bird's moving appeal for his livelihood. Light toning, the Local 767 claim form browned, but overall very good. Revealing sequence of documents relating of an aspect of Bird's life, and character, not often illuminated in such a way - his almost pathological feud with the authorities that directly controlled access to the clubs and bars that were the essential arena for his creativity. These years were marked by an accelerated decline in his mental state, his life spiralling out of control, during which Parker was more or less continually in dispute with the The American Federation of Musicians - the musicians union, as represented by the endlessly intrusive New York Local 802, and also the national president himself Joseph Petrillo, notorious for having called the Recording Strike of 1942-4 which robbed posterity of a record of the development of be-bop - while he also drew hostile attention from the New York State Liquor Authority, advised by the NYPD, who had the revocation of his 'cabaret card' in their command. The archive highlights his coast-to-coast evasion of the AFM, and includes a heartfelt, and almost plausible, plea from Bird himself. The group opens with a letter from 1950 sent by Charles R. Iucci of Local 802 in New York to Paul L. Howard, the financial secretary of Local 767 in LA, requesting clarification of a notice relating to unpaid dues, a total of $21.50. Iucci explains that Bird has left for Europe, but Teddy Blume, Parker's personal manager during the "With Strings" tours of 1950, had assured him that Parker had "personally given his resignation to the President of your Local, after which they shook hands in token of good friendship". To which Howard replies, a little stiffly, advising "that [Parker] has not been in this jurisdiction for a year or more, at which time our former president was in office. Our succeeding President has never met Charley[sic.] Parker face to face," before concluding "we would appreciate any assistance you can give us in collecting the money from Mr. Parker". The next piece is from two years later, a claim form for Local 767 filed in June 1952 made out by Elmer Fain, a business manager for the local, and a man described as "severe business, no-nonsense, [who] scared everybody to death … this man just exuded competence and power, you know. He had the bylaws memorised. You know, he knew what was right, and he knew what the scales were" (Jackie Kelso, "Central Avenue Sounds", UCLA oral history project). Fain explains that in three attempts he has never been shown a union card or travelling book - a permit for a musician to play in jurisdictions other than his home local - by Charlie; "Since Charlie came here to get him [sic.] straight untill [sic.] now I haven't seen a card or book". As a result of the proceedings Parker was fined $350 for "playing an engagement at the Tiffany Club, and for Jazz at the Philharmonic Recording Company, while erased from membership" of the AFM. His response was a request to James Petrillo, the president of the AFM, for a stay of judgement subject to an appeal, "I am a family man and have been out of work for along time and find it impossible to pay this amount" (text published Vail, Bird's Diary, p.113). There follow a series of triple forte choruses in the key of outrage, with Leo McCoy Davis of 767 signing off; "While we do not know about Parker's financial business, it is noted that he was earning $750 per week when he played the Tiffany Club, and in addition, he was earning extra money making recordings. He is a very popular musician, and if he is out of work, it is no doubt due to his conduct, which is very poor". With reference to Vail it clear that Bird was still gigging regularly, if controversially, with a problematic residency at the Say When Club in San Francisco in June-July, recording sessions at Zorthian's Ranch in Altadena in August, and, back in New York in September, a broadcast from Birdland and a benefit at the Rockland Ballroom, and no doubt more lost to history during the confused period of his life. Remarkably Parker was apparently never subject to a narcotics bust per se, he "survived countless pat-downs, raids, and ransacking of rooms … he always seemed to be one jump ahead of the 'narcs'. His luck, and supposed immunity from the bust, became part of the Parker legend" (Russell, Bird Lives!, p.304). However, his "cabaret card" was pulled sometime in 1951, essentially on suspicion, forcing him to play only theatre engagements or out of town for around a year, and the final document here, a letter from Iucci to Local 767, shows that from January 1953 he had also been "terminated from Local 802 for failure to pay" the fine of $350. The unquestionable genius of Charlie Parker has sometimes blinded people to his less appealing side. He has been tellingly described as "a reckless virtuoso … whose music embodies the contradictions of the man. He demonstrated complete control of his horn, even as his personal life spun out of control … An addict who would steal or con for a fix, he was beloved by friends and family" (jazz.com encyclopaedia). These bureaucratic proceedings offer a clear-eyed, if vindictive, view of Bird the risk-taker; Bird the wheedling junkie, the personality described on his admission to Bellevue as "ingratiating" (Russell, p.334); and also reveal a glimpse of his persistent, if perhaps delusional, desire for normality, to be the "family man" that he impersonated with "a rolled copy of The New York Times tucked under one arm" during his brief glimpse of almost suburban happiness with Chan (Russell, p.302). This period represented "the peak of Parker's commercial success … but one fatal flaw remained - his addiction drugs" (p.303), fuelling his self-destructive fugue from success, his decline and tragic death in 1955.
      [Bookseller: Peter Harrington]
Last Found On: 2015-07-07           Check availability:      Biblio    

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