Jazz at Massey Hall from The Quintet often appears reissued under the name “The Greatest Concert Ever.” It features an all star lineup of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. Some 15 years before this concert date (1953), these guys were mutually involved in the creation of bebop and had years of experience and expertise by the time of the historic concert.
Interestingly enough, this was the only time the five would record together and it would appear that they knew it, as everyone performed to their fullest potential. A lot of earlier bebop recordings suffered from sound quality but Jazz at Massey Hall sounds very good for a live concert.
The Quintet recorded the album on the 15th of May, 1953 at Massey Hall in Toronto, and marked the last recorded meeting of Parker and Gillespie.
Parker was paired with a Grafton saxophone on this particular night. Since he could not be listed on the original album cover for contractual reasons, Charlie Parker was billed as “Charlie Chan” (an allusion to the fictional detective and to Parker’s wife Chan). Mingus’s label Debut originally released the record from a recording made by the Toronto New Jazz Society. The recording was then taken to New York by Mingus where he and Max Roach dubbed in the bass lines because they were under-recorded on most of the tunes. They also exchanged Mingus soloing on “All the Things You Are.”
While the original plan called for the Jazz Society and the musicians to share profits from the recording, a boxing prize fight between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott took place simultaneously, stifling the audience so dramatically that the Society was unable to pay the musicians’ fees. Instead, the musicians were all given NSF checks, and only Parker was able to actually cash his in. This led to years of Gillespie complaining that he did not receive his fee.
The full concert was re-issued in 2004 without the over-dubbing. The new version was titled Complete Jazz at Massey Hall.
According to Murray Horwitz of the American Film Institute, the only jazz composition ever known to be sung by a United States president while in office was “Salt Peanuts” off of this record. The peanut farmer Jimmy Carter sang it at the White House Jazz Festival.
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