Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada, has hosted over 10,000 concerts during its 118 year existence. The 2,750 seat venue was only about half-full on May 15, 1953, when it hosted one of the most unique concerts in jazz history when alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charlie Mingus, and drummer Max Roach took the stage together.
The concert was recorded only because Mingus had the foresight to bring along a simple recording machine which he hooked up to a single microphone. His ingenuity preserved one of jazz music’s shining moments. The resultant album, The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall, has been reissued as a part of the Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. The sound has been cleaned up as much as the original tape will allow, which has resulted in a clear sound. New liner notes by Ashley Kahn give a concise history of the event.
The concert began with a 45 minute performance by the 16 piece CBS All Stars. The Quintet then took the stage for three songs with the tape running. They then left so fight fans in the crowd could listen to the Rocky Marciano – Jersey Joe Walcott championship heavyweight fight, which mercifully ended with a first round knockout. After Powell warmed up the crowd again, The Quintet returned for three more numbers with the tape running once again.
The six songs that make up the album contain just about 50 minutes of jazz bliss. The five musicians were not a tight-knit band by any sense of the word, but rather five individuals who decided to perform together. Their choice of material was conservative, which allowed them to fit comfortably with one another while playing to their strengths.
Gillespie’s runs on “A Night In Tunisia” were fluid, precise, and elicited an enthusiastic audience reaction. “Wee (Allen’s Alley)” contained a mature and powerful performance by Parker, who had less than two years to live. Powell is sometimes a forgotten musician today, but he was one of the key pianists in the development of bebop and his improvisational solos on “Hot House” are both brilliant and melodic. Mingus’ bass lines are both controlled and solid and are best exhibited on “All The Things You Are.” Powell was the youngest member of the group but stands above the crowd on “Salt Peanuts.”
There was no encore and thus are no bonus tracks. When the concert concluded, the six songs became a part of jazz history. Thank you, Charles Mingus!