The Troy Street Observer

Mar 12, 1955: Bird a No-Show at Storyville

Charlie Parker headshot
Charlie Parker

It wasn’t the first time Charlie Parker was a no-show for a gig. Arriving late and playing borrowed horns were par for the course with Bird. In the past few years, though, his behavior had become more and more erratic and both his physical and mental health were in decline. Parker attempted suicide twice in 1954. Maybe no one, including Storyville proprietor George Wein, was all that surprised when Parker failed to show on March 10 to open his week in Boston.

Parker  lived in New York, but because his cabaret card had been revoked in 1951, he was a frequent visitor to the Hub. Between 1951 and 1954, Parker appeared five times as a leader at the Hi-Hat and twice more at Storyville, along with various other club dates. He worked as a single, usually playing with house trios and an added trumpeter; the exception seemed to be the drummer—Roy Haynes got many of these Boston gigs, so perhaps Parker asked for him. But bassists Bernie Griggs and Jimmy Woode, and trumpeters Joe Gordon and Herb Pomeroy, each worked at least twice on Hi-Hat and Storyville dates with Parker in these years.

Aware of Parker’s inconsistencies, Wein added a second band to the bill for March 10-16, that of Lee Konitz. No Bird on the 10th, no Bird on the 11th… and the 12th was Saturday night, and the crowd was there to hear Parker. No Bird. Out came Konitz. The crowd booed—not a reflection on Konitz, but on Parker’s absence.

We all know what happened. Just about the time Parker should have hit at Storyville, he died in the New York apartment of Baroness Nica von Koenigswarter. It took several days for the news to make it to Boston, but by then everyone was reconciled to the no-show, Konitz had moved on, and Count Basie’s band was at Storyville.

Here is Lee Konitz’s marvelous unaccompanied “Blues for Bird,” from the 1965 Charlie Parker Memorial Concert, to mark this day. I heard Konitz play it at the 1369 in the mid-eighties, when he performed there, alone, on this day.

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  1. Hi Richard, I was out of town when you replied back to me and I am just getting back to you now. First I would never go to Storyville to see Josh White and Lee Konitz would probably not have been my first choice. I recently read on Discogs.com that three FM Broadcasts from Storyville of Chet Baker took place in 1954, the lasts one recorded on October 19,1954, two days after my visit to Boston with my friend Russ Jordan from Brockton, who was the the pianist in a quartet I played Tenor sax in. Chet Baker would have been a draw for us. I remember going to Storyville with Russ sometime in this time period, as I used his ID to prove I was of age to drink. Unfortunately the waitress asked Russ, who was 25 for his ID, no photo ID’s back then, so I drank whiskey and Russ ginger ale. So, if you could re-check your sources, I would appreciate it.
    Also, if you could lead me as to where I could view the list of performers and dates of those who performed at Storyville that would be most appreciated. In particular when in 1956/1957 I took my wife to be, to hear Errol Garner. I am enjoying reading you book The Boston Jazz Chronicles, brings back a lot of memories. One more thing, the Stable, we used to call it the Stables. I seem to recall entering by a ramp to the lower level.
    Is that correct? As the area was indeed where the horses were housed and the ramp where they emerged drawing the carriages, the taxi cabs (Uber) of that era.

    • Thanks for the good words on the book, Leonard. Check out the photo on p213 regarding the name at the Stable. Storyville–yes, according to best available information, Josh White was the headliner Oct 11-17. Chet Baker came in on Monday the 18th, so the broadcast date lines up with that.

  2. I am inquiring if you know of a listing of performers who appeared at Storyville, with the dates they were there. In particular the night of Saturday, October 17, 1954. In reading a family diary, notations were made of what I was doing, such as when I attended the Newport Jazz Festival in 1953 and 1954 and when I attended JATP at Symphony Hall.
    I have the programs for these events. On the above date the notation was L & Russ to music in Boston. I remember it being Storyville, otherwise the notation would have said as it did on October 10, 1954, Len & Russ to Symphony Hall. I have the program and that was the Festival of Modern American Jazz. I corroborated the performance date to the Stan Kenton Band Itinerary:1940-1978, which I have a copy of. Any information would be most helpful. Len Whitmore

    • Leonard, on the night of 10/17/1954, there were two acts on the bill at Storyville. The headliner was bluesman Josh White. The opener was Lee Konitz, who was at the club all month. I have no info on other band members.

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