Record of the Day: Leo Parker, "Let Me Tell You 'bout It"

Record of the Day: Leo Parker, “Let Me Tell You ’bout It”

Leo Parker
“Let Me Tell You ’bout It” (CD Blue Note 09463114912-2)

An unfortunate musician (he died of a heart attack at the age of 36 just four months after the release of this album), Leo Parker was an excellent saxophonist whose brief career was jeopardized by heroin use, which sidelined him from the music scene for virtually the entire 1950s after he had earned an excellent reputation as a baritone saxophonist soloist.
Leo had started out playing the alto sax and at 18 he found himself part of Coleman Hawkins’ band; in 1945 he moved to Billy Eckstine’s band and decided to dedicate his energies to the baritone sax, an instrument not very popular at the time; from that moment on there were plenty of opportunities to show off his talent and Parker soon began to collaborate with musicians of great value such as Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan, Fats Navarro.

His excellent technique and robust sound allowed him to explore both the swing and bopper languages: Leo also took part in some of the first R&B recordings working between 1947 and 1954 for numerous labels (Prestige, Savoy, King and others).

After almost seven years of silence due to drugs, Leo was brought back to the fore by his friend Ike Quebec, at the time one of the musical directors of the Blue Note label. Quebec proposed to the boss Alfred Lion to give Parker a chance and on September 9, 1961, in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, the sessions for this “Let Me Tell You ’bout It” were made.
This is a cheerful recording, without particular pretensions; “Glad Lad” (an ironic reference to Sir Charles Thompson’s “Mad Lad”) opens the dance on a wild uptempo that gives the musicians (in addition to Leo, Bill Swindell on tenor sax, John Burks on trumpet, Yusef Salim on piano, Stan Conover on bass and Purnell Rice on drums) the opportunity to give life to lively interventions, with enthusiasm.

Parker’s solos do not possess the intoxicating virtuosity of Serge Chaloff’s, but the beauty of their phrasing sustains them to the end and he articulates the lines with vigor and a strong sense of construction. The velvety blues-shuffle of “Blue Leo” demonstrates this even more, as does the mastery that Parker reveals in the theme of the title track, whose gospel character seems to refer to the bands of the popular parades of New Orleans.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical subjects.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: Un disco per ogni giorno dell’anno” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.