The Ninth Annual Charlie Parker Festival was presented on Aug. 25 and 26 in two locations – “Parker’s Mood” at Tompkins Square Park and “Johnnie Garry’s Mood” at Marcus Garvey Park. And, for the first time, the jazz artists who took part in the two five-hour concerts – approximately 75 musicians, including contemporaries of Bird himself – performed under a union contract.
Last year the festival added a second location, in Harlem, because the length of the sound permit placed limits on the number of musicians who could participate in a meaningful way. “There were a number of musicians throughout the city who wanted to perform at the festival, and we felt the addition of a day would allow us to present more musicians” festival producer Sam Turvey told Allegro. “The goal was to keep the festival in locations that makes the audience feel a part of the event. We didn’t want to over-expand. The two parks are intimate, and that is how we think jazz should be presented.”
The festival is dedicated to “promoting a deeper understanding and appreciation of the musical legacy of the late Charlie Parker.” In 1999 Doris Parker, Charlie Parker’s widow and one of the original festival organizers, met with representatives of Local 802 to explore ways to secure a contract for the musicians who performed at the festival. A longtime advocate on issues facing jazz musicians and the community at large, Parker was committed to finding ways the union could help provide a more secure future for jazz artists. She had been encouraging the producers to negotiate a contract for last year’s festival. However, her untimely passing postponed this effort.
This year, partly in her honor, the producers signed their first collective bargaining agreement with Local 802, making the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival the first to provide musicians with AFM-EPF contributions. “We are a small operation but we were glad to be able to work out an agreement over time,” Turvey said. “This is something Doris, as well as others, wanted to see happen.”
New York is one of the great laboratories for musical experimentation, with an abundance of jazz landmarks and monuments memorializing the history of this great art form. The Charlie Parker Festival seemed to be organized with all this in mind. The concert I attended in Tompkins Square park, located in Bird’s former neighborhood, was clearly a community event. It overflowed with jazz fans enjoying one of the most beautiful days of the summer while celebrating the memory of Charlie Parker.