Sony Masterworks is proud to announce the newest installment of guitar virtuoso Pasquale Grasso’s digital series: Solo Bird. 2020 marks the centennial celebration of Charlie Parker’s birth and life and the masterful impact that he had on music. This series is a brilliant exploration of the solo guitar format with an emphasis on Grasso’s intense studies of the jazz masters, both bebop and classical. The series – which includes Solo Standards, Vol. 1, Solo Ballads, Vol. 1, Solo Monk, Solo Holiday, Solo Masterpieces, and Solo Bud Powell – is a revolutionary approach in a changing landscape of the modern music industry allowing a prolific recording artist to release a multitude of material over the course of an extended period of time. The final release of 2020 will be an expanded, 11-track version of Solo Standards.
Investigating the exhilarating compositions of Charlie Parker instantly transports Grasso back to his childhood in Italy. “Bird was always scary for me,” he recalls with a chuckle, looking back from the perspective of one who has long since delved deeply into their enticing mysteries. “I first heard Charlie Parker when I was about 5 years old. My parents had given me and my brother Luigi recordings of Charlie Parker – the first was most likely Jazz at Massey Hall. It was love at first sight for both of us, especially my older brother Luigi, since he’d started playing alto sax.” Parker was the idol of Luigi; for that reason, Pasquale for a time resisted the iconic saxophonist as one of his own leading lights, wanting to set out on his own path. “As kids, we would learn one of his songs and play it every day until we got it right. I always loved his lines, which are so perfect it’s frightening. Also, his approach always changes – each time he would improvise on a song, his phrasing would change, sometimes drastically, from version to version.”
He was often called on to comp for Luigi on such immortal Parker compositions as “Yardbird Suite” and “Confirmation,” so those great melodies inevitably left a profound impression on his musical imagination. Nowadays “Yardbird Suite” conjures up nostalgic images of home. “Bird only recorded it a couple of times, and it’s one of the few songs he wrote that wasn’t based on a standard tune. The beautiful melody reminds me of my hometown Ariano Irpino, Italy, where I learned the song, waking up with the sounds of birds chirping outside my window.”
Grasso also tackles other Bird classics such as “How High the Moon/Ornithology.” “Bird actually wrote “Ornithology” (the study of birds – get it?) with trumpeter Little Benny Harris. Many of Bird’s compositions are contrafacts, meaning that they are original melodies written over the harmony of a standard song. One benefit of this was that since only the melody has a copyright, the label could save money on royalties. In this case, it’s “How High the Moon,” and since I like both tunes, I play it as a medley.”
Revisiting those same tunes all these years later, Grasso carves his own brilliant path through Bird’s darting lines and hairpin turns, navigating their dizzying angles with blistering agility and dazzling finesse. “It’s impossible to guess what’s next or what he’s gonna play. It’s incredible to think that Bird recorded all that music in such a short period of time and when he was so young, since he tragically passed at only 34. The way he played ballads also amazed me. Since this project is just his own songs, maybe I’ll record a ballad tribute to him in the future!”
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