October 21, 2014
Charlie Parker’s little known and irreverent “He’s a Fast Talking Son of a Bitch,” debuted on this day in 1946, as a side B on his bebob album, “Part of the Way.” Sadly, censorship prevented Parker from using the word “bitch,” instead substituting “witch.”
In live concerts, club audiences would yell, “Play the bitch!” This led to legendary Hollywood actor John Barrymore climbing onto the bandstand and fondling Negro backup singer, Serena Backright from behind, Barrymore’s long fingers caressing Ms. Backright’s tummy as though she were a musical instrument.
The mystery remains: Who was the fast talking son of a bitch (if indeed there was a fast talking son of a bitch)? Sideman washboard player Kilometer Davis, brother of Miles, claimed that he was the man of the title, but in fact Davis talked so slowly that audience members clapped between words.
Jazz historians cite fast talker President Harry Truman, who wielded his power from the White House to talk Bird into trying out young Margaret Truman on keyboards, though Ms. Truman, a mediocre pianist at best, could only play in the key of F#. A side note to music history shows that Margaret, noodling F# while the rest of the band played in D, may unwittingly have given birth to the 12 tone scale and “modern” music, which would drive American audiences mad.
Tall Shorty, the octogenarian tenor sax player (he slept through sets until it was his time to jam) was a fast talker, but only when he was dreaming. Father Charles Coughlin, “Cough” to his friends, the rightwing radio personality, was a fast talker but his rhythm had been removed in an experimental brain surgery.
Which leads us to the greatest fast talker of his time, move star Lou Costello, of Abbot and Costello fame. Costello and Bird met while dining separately but equally at Sardis, in New York City. As Bird told it, “There was this fat, fast talkin’ son of a bitch at a table near me, six foxy ladies hangin’ on his every word, and the dude was riffin’ on this poem, ‘Who’s On First?’ I mean, the cat crackled.”
“He’s a fast talkin’ son of a bitch/He can sing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ without a glitch/Sell ice to Eskimos with his slick pitch.” That memorable lyric would win Charlie Parker worldwide acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for White Poetry, in 1950.
Mint condition copies of “Part of the Way” sell for as much as six dollars on E-Bay. The one rare recording of Bird using the word “bitch” can fetch much as a Norman Rockwell etching.
Sadly, we’ll probably never know who the “fast talking son of a bitch” really was, as everyone mentioned in this article is dead. Kilometer and Miles Davis put it succinctly in their 1952 hit, “For Bird: Dead Dancing is Slow Dancing”: “The dead dance bad/The dead speak deadly.”
With the end of bebob, came bebop, and rebop became Reebok, and truebop became Tupac, and shockbop became doo wop, and so it goes. With the coming of global warming, there won’t be another Bird, another Tree Rollins, another Leif Erickson.
But take heart: the mediocre live on. We’ll always have Miley, the Beiber, Josh Grobin making us sick to our stomachs with “You Raise Me up,” and Jeff Bridges imitating country singers.
Jazz, America’s music is beloved in Europe. We’ll always have Paris.