Oct 19, 1947: The New Jazz Comes to Boston
Symphony Hall was a busy place for jazz in 1947. Lionel Hampton, Jack Teagarden and Max Kaminsky, the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and Jazz at the Philharmonic were among the shows presented earlier that year. But the night of October 19 brought something entirely new.
In fact, that’s what the concert was called: “The New Jazz,” and the music was provided by Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra. In addition, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, featuring Charlie Parker, played five tunes. Parker did not perform with the orchestra.
Gillespie had been to Boston before this in his big band days, and perhaps Parker had as well. But this was Gillespie’s first appearance in Boston as a bandleader, and it was the first time Gillespie and Parker were in Boston as the “high priests of bebop,” or whatever label it was that the press slapped on them. But labels aside, this was the first major-venue modern jazz concert in Boston. There would be more shows, and soon.
Unfortunately, the concert was not reviewed. Even the intrepid Nat Hentoff skipped this one in his Counterpoint newsletter. Let’s imagine it was the Gillespie Orchestra in full glory: “Yesterdays,” featuring Milt Jackson; “One Bass Hit,” featuring Al McKibbon; “Cubano-Be, Cubano-Bop,” with Chano Pozo and Lorenzo Salan; “Oop-Pop-A-Da,” featuring James Moody and the vocals of Gillespie and Kenny Hagood; and “Hot House,” featuring Cecil Payne. Boston fans had to be pleased when the Bostonian on the band, altoist Howard “Swan” Johnson, was featured on “Nearness.” The orchestra played a dozen numbers in all, arranged by John Lewis, Tadd Dameron, George Russell, and Gil Fuller.
The Dizzy Gillespie Quintet (Gillespie, Parker, Lewis, McKibbon, and Joe Harris) set included “Night in Tunisia,” “Dizzy Atmosphere,” “Groovin’ High,” “Confirmation,” and “Ko-Ko.”
The evening ended with “Impromptu,” played by “Ensemble.” Perhaps that meant Parker joined the orchestra for the finale.
This concert was actually very similar to one performed a few weeks earlier, on September 29, at Carnegie Hall. That concert was recorded but the orchestra portion was never released. The quintet set has been in and out of print repeatedly over these 50 years.
Here is the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with “Night in Tunisia,” as it was recorded at Carnegie Hall, three weeks before they played it at Symphony Hall.