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Charlie 'Bird' Parker's classic tune Laird Baird was recorded by the Charlie Parker Quartet in New York City on 30th December 1952 with Charlie Parker (alto sax), Hank Jones (piano), Teddy Kotick (bass) and Max Roach (drums). The recording was released in 1953 on the Verve label.
It is an example of what became known as 'Bird Changes', a unique version of the 12-bar blues that he also used in tunes such as Blues For Alice and Si Si. Technically, he uses a series of sequential II-V or secondary II-V progressions.
Bird Blues in Bb
On the sleeve notes for a 1977 LP reissue, Bob Blumenthal writes: 'Nothing gets in the way of Parker's genius here - ideas come in flashes, effortlessly, and everything he conceives is articulated on the horn. Laird Baird with its quicksilver alto choruses, is enriched by the impeccable and increasingly melodic drums of Max Roach .... As always Hank Jones is elegant and lyrical, a model of grace without pressure.' There is less information around about bassist Teddy Kotick except that he was a regular sideman with many of the leading figures of the 1940s and 1950s, including Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, Artie Shaw, Horace Silver and Bill Evans.
Listen to Laird Baird.
Laird Baird was dedicated to Baird, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker’s son with Chan Parker. Chan, a dancer in New York City, was born Beverly Dolores Berg, but she was also known as Chan Richardson and Chan Parker. Chan and Charlie were never married. In 1950, when Chan moved in with Charlie she was divorced and already had a daughter, Kim, from her marriage to musician Bill Heyer. Charlie also dedicated a composition to Kim, and that too has become a jazz classic, perhaps even more so than Laird Baird. Click here to listen to Kim. As we shall see, life mirrors music in the prominence of Baird and Kim.
Charlie and Chan also had a daughter, Pree, who was born in 1951. Baird was born in 1952. Sadly, Pree died in 1954 of cystic fibrosis. As Chan was to say later, not much had been know of the disorder in those days and the death of the two year old was devastating to the family. As Charlie Parker himself died a year later in 1955, four year old Baird would have remembered little about his father.
When Baird was born in 1952, that also coincided with an occasion when Bird was playing in Detroit and he encountered his first son, Leon, by his marriage to Rebecca Ruffin. The youngster, who was about eleven at the time, knew very little about his father either as apparently neither his mother nor his grandmother, Addie, ever talked to him about Charlie. Clearly, the early 1950s were significant years as far as Bird's children were concerned and a particularly difficult time for Chan. Things had never been straightforward for the relationship anyway; Charlie's frequently upredictable drug and alcohol abuse and sharing an inter-racial relationship in those days can't have been easy.
We should remember that Charlie had two other wives before he and Chan got together - Geraldine Scott and Doris Syndor. Charlie never divorced Doris. It would be easy to get sidelined in this article about Charlie and Chan's various relationships and the repercussions on them from his death. Certainly the disputes that arose as to who should have what of Charlie's after he died were fraught. What is worth noting at this point is that despite everything that followed, Baird's obituary says that it was Baird who received the royalties from Charlie's music as he was the only surviving child of Charlie Parker.
This picture of a family Sunday dinner in 1953 appears on the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors site and gives us a rare glimpse of Baird. Right to left: Pree on Charlie Parker's lap, Aunt Rae, Chan, Baird, Kim, Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Janet.
Asked later by Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors about Bird's relationship with Baird and Pree, Kim said: 'My mother was very upset because Pree was sickly. They didn’t know what cystic fibrosis was then – they hadn’t given it a name. At that time, cystic fibrosis had not been isolated as a disease, so it had no name. She died at 2½ of pneumonia. My mother would be upset at Bird because he would pay attention to Baird andme, and he would not pay attention to Pree. I think he was afraid of her vulnerability because she was sickly. My mother said to him, “Baird has a middle name. You wrote a song for Baird. You wrote a song for Kim. Why didn’t you write a song for Pree? Pree doesn’t have a middle name.” You know, he died almost a year to the day after Pree died.
KCJA: You had a really cohesive family unit, where you would have Sunday dinners. It seems to me that phase of the relationship is when Bird and Chan were very tight. When did you first notice they were drifting apart?
Kim: I was often shipped uptown to my grandmother’s, so I knew something was afoot. I remember my mother coming home from the hospital after Pree died. Pree died five times. Her heart stopped in the taxi, and in the hospital, and then she finally succumbed. Bird was in California. My mother probably called my grandmother to come and stay with me and Baird while she took Pree to the hospital. But I remember my mother, just remember her sobbing, sobbing.
The site also carries this picture of Bird, Chan and Baird in Washington Square, New York, after the death of their daughter Pree.
Two years after Bird's death in 1955, Chan married saxophonist Phil Woods and moved to France, where she spent much of the rest of her life. She died in 1999 and we can read her obtuary in The Independent here. So what happened to Baird? As Charlie and Chan were estranged at the time of Bird's death, Baird probably went on living with his grandmother.
In interview (click here) Kim Parker said: '.... my sister (Pree) died and then everything sort of fell apart. That was the year before Bird died. My sister died in March 1954 and Bird died in March 1955. That was pretty downhill. .... My mother moved us to New Hope, Pennsylvania thinking a change of scene would be beneficial for everyone. My mother was completely devastated by the death of her daughter and Bird. ... When Bird died we were living with my grandmother in Lumberville, Pennsylvania. Bird didn’t actually know where we lived. My mother had moved us and my mother was working, checking coats at a jazz club in Trenton, New Jersey. She was not at home, my grandmother was babysitting, when we got a call from an uncle - saying that Bird was dead. My grandmother lived on what later became known as Swing Street - 52nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue - I was shipped off there after my father died. ......'
Returning to the tune, the now unavailable www.jazz.com quoted Marcus Singletary saying that Laird Baird ‘... contains quite a few awesome solo passages by the jazz legend even though the music is less visual than is normal for a player whose reputation rests upon his pushing of musical boundaries. The tune is played at mid-tempo, and, while slower tunes usually require some form of intensity to validate them, this one lacks it.’ Singleton thinks that the recording sounds more like a rehearsal take: ‘the tune follows a predictable pattern: solo piano improvisation starts it, followed by open, swing-time hi-hats and a round of ensemble solos …. An indistinct Parker riff bookends the solos, and listeners are left without a sense of why the saxman was regarded as a creative genius… it sounds like the group knocked this off in under ten minutes. Unfortunately, you will not consider this track amongst the top hundred in the Charlie Parker canon.’
Whatever Marcus Singleton thought, (and I enjoy the recording far more than he does), Laird Baird has remained a popular track and still appears on Charlie Parker record compilations. It is always going to be difficult to better the original, nevertheless here is a version played by Walter Bishop with The Charlie Parker Memorial Band in Frankfurt in 1991:
As to the choice of name, both 'Laird' and 'Baird' are intriguing. I have not been able to find out why Charlie and Chan chose ‘Baird’ for a name. It’s similarity to ‘Bird’ is interesting as is its similarity to ‘Bairn’ the Scottish name for a child. There is certainly a Scottish link to ‘Baird’ - Baird is primarily a boy's name of Gaelic, Scottish and Irish origin. It is used as a first name although it is more commonly a surname (e.g. Logie Baird). Perhaps Charlie or Chan heard a Scot pronounce 'Bird' ... we shall probabaly never know, I have not come across them having any Scottish links.
So what do we know about the name 'Baird'?
Interestingly, the meaning of ‘Baird’ is "a poet, one who sings ballads" – you can see the connection to the English word "Bard". As a surname, Baird is also primarily Scottish. An old legend says that the Baird family obtained their lands in Scotland when one Baird rescued King William (a Scots king from 1165 to 1214) who was being attacked by a wild boar. King William ‘the Lion’ was also known by the nickname Garbh, "the Rough". He was only named ‘The Lion’ after his death because the chronicler John of Fordun called him the "Lion of Justice". While the validity of the legend of the rescue from the boar is uncertain, the Baird family did obtain lands in Aberdeenshire.
Of course, the Scottish link is also there in the word ‘Laird’. 'Laird' is often seen as a Scottish equivalent to the English word ‘Lord’, but there is a difference. Did you know that you can become a Laird quite easily?
A ‘Laird’ is primarily a Scottish landowner. We read ‘The term ‘laird’ has generally been applied to the owner of an estate, sometimes by the owner himself or, more commonly, by those living and working on the estate. It is a description rather than a title, and is not appropriate for the owner of a normal residential property, far less the owner of a small souvenir plot of land. It goes without saying that the term ‘laird’ is not synonymous with that of ‘lord’ or ‘lady’. ... Historically, the term ‘bonnet laird’ was applied to rural, petty landowners, as they wore a bonnet like the non-landowning classes.’
Apparently, you can become a Laird for under £20.00. There are websites where you can purchase your own Highland Estate (or plot of land) and you or someone you love ‘can be a Lord, Lady or Laird of your very own Scottish estate’. Although the websites clearly confuse the titles, it seems that they sell you a patch of land in Scotland enabling you to become a ‘Scottish landowner’. We’re not sure what the Scots think of that (but we can guess!). However, if Baird Parker were still alive, perhaps someone should buy him a big chunk of land.
Perhaps then, it is coincidental that in 1995, Stephen Scott (piano) and Christian McBride (bass), both Scottish surnames, recorded a nice version of Laird Baird on a Roy Hargrove Trio album Parker's Mood - Hargrove sits this one out.
So what of the boy and man who was named Baird Parker? Not much.
References to Baird Parker on the internet do not help very much. I once read a comment that he had been killed in the Vietnam War, and there is an undated, anonymous entry on www.answers.com that says: ‘I once spoke to Baird's sister, Kim. He is alive and living somewhere in the greater Philadelphia area. The rumor is that he is seemingly afflicted with his father’s addictions. Sad really, I do remember him as a talented musician and friend. I've recorded at his place in Lansdale, PA, he's working a store with a studio run by a partner, Guilio Kitao. He does have similar problems as alluded above, but still seems to be faring okay. My kid likes him well enough, and he still likes to play.’
The reference to Philadelphia seems correct as we read that Baird died at the age of 61 in Philadelphia in March 2014. On forum.saxontheweb.net, someone writes: 'Just want to let the forum know that Baird Parker, son of Charlie Parker and Chan
Richardson Parker Woods died on March 23 at Lansdale Hospital in suburban
Philadelphia. He was 61 years old and the cause of death was kidney, liver and
respiratory system failure. He was the last surviving child of Bird and sole
recipient of Royalties acquired by the music of Charlie Parker.
Baird played guitar and was running a recording studio with a friend in Pennsylvania for some years.'
'Of photos I've seen of him he looked like a 50/50 split of Chan and Bird I could see both of there (their) features in his face. Kim Parker had on her website a photo of Baird, but the photo was removed later - when I saw it he looked a LOT like Bird in that particular photo, albeit lighter complexioned and he had a beard. Sadly, he's also had substance abuse problems which have lead ultimately to his relatively early passing.'
This picture of Chan, Charlie and Kim appears on the website Bird Lives, but here again, there is little mention of Baird.
The Philadelphia Enquirer reported: 'Charles Baird Parker, 61, of Lansdale, the sole surviving child of the jazz saxophone great Charlie "Bird" Parker, died Sunday, March 23, at Lansdale Hospital of kidney, liver, and respiratory failure. News of Mr. Parker's death was released by his attorney, Albert Oehrle. Mr. Parker's father died in 1955 at age 34 while in mid-career as a jazz soloist. He helped create bebop, characterized by quick tempos and improvisation. His mother, Chan Woods, a dancer, died in 1999.'
There must be those who remember Baird Parker, but their memories do not seem easily available on the internet. We have a few clues as to his character from the above, but not much about what sort of person he was.
With more than a little scepticism on my part, perhaps we could trurn to Kabalarian Philosophy for a clue. The Canadian Encyclopedia has called the Kabalarian Philosophy the world's smallest religion. Founded in the 1930s by Alfred J. Parker, 'this philosophical religion teaches the Mathematical Principle relating mathematics, language, name, mind, and Consciousness. The Philosophy teaches that 'the name, being composed of mathematically ordered symbols of language, represents a mathematical formula that influences an individual's entire life. They teach that name is the means by which the abstract forces of Consciousness are brought into form through these name formulas.' The Kabalarians offer 'Name Reports' to validate this teaching, and balance names to bring these forces into harmony. They teach that 'unbalanced names adversely influence health, limit success, and disturb one's overall happiness, harmony, and balance.' As I understand it, they will analyse your character from your name and if you want to change your character, help you find a name that will change it. ' The service is not free.
Nevertheless, Kabalarian Philosophy tells us what it thinks the character is of the name 'Baird'. 'The first name, Baird, makes you self-reliant, creative in practical ways, and an independent diligent worker. You work best alone making your own decisions as it is not always easy for you to respond to the advice and direction of others as you feel the need to be in control. You enjoy the simple pleasures of life especially activities that take you outdoors. You have a few good friends who enjoy similar activities. Living much within your own thoughts and finding it challenging to communicate easily with others, you are, at times, too candid and honest in your assessment of situations. You feel this separation from others and would give anything to be always lighthearted and friendly instead of serious and shy. This influence of this name can adversely affect the health of the heart and lungs because of self-consciousness, sensitivity, and lack of verbal expression.Tension also centres in the head affecting either the eyes, ears, sinuses, or teeth.'
[I do not advocate that anyone spends money with the Kalabarians. Their ideas seem similar to those of Numerology whose journal says: 'They derive their teachings from a yogic system named yantra yoga. However really they are watering down the precision of that system for the sake of financial gain and keeping their organization alive. Their organization has been hit by numerous scandals. It’s the usual thing with cults and cult leaders – sex scandals involving the leaders with multiple girls raised in the group, raised in groupthink. Legal action was taken and the leader was found guilty as charged. Further court cases are in the works.']
And so we are still left with many unknowns about Baird and the tune Laid Baird. More information is probably out there if someone wanted to unwrap things further. In the meanwhile, we can continue to enjoy the tune and remember that Bird wrote it for a little boy born before the family fell apart.
We sign off with this Japanese video of Laird Baird played by a young band, Otsuka? in 2015. The video is of the complete gig, Laird Baird starts at 11.05. (Can anyone help with the text translation?).
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