The Quintet

The Quintet

The Quintet

Jazz at Massey Hall

Once upon a time, giants walked this Earth. And for one night in 1953, they came together in Canada… and blew the walls down.

“The Quintet,” as they became known after the fact, were the elite of jazz. They were Charlie Parker on a borrowed plastic alto sax, Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet, Bud Powell, piano, Max Roach on drums, and Charles Mingus on bass. The concert on May 15 was to be the only time the five recorded together, and the last time that the two titans of bop, Parker and Gillespie, were to play together.

The show was put together by a small group of Canadian jazz fans, and was poorly attended — a heavyweight prize fight was scheduled the same night — but the five were heavyweights on their own. The rise of be-bop came about in late night jam sessions at places like Minton’s in Greenwich Village, where folks like Parker took standards such as “All the Things You Are” and stretched them in double-time to new heights. But bop was more than sheer notes per measure; it was a new way of looking at the relationships between notes, both harmonically and rhythmically. Dizzy Gillespie, who contributed “Salt Peanuts” and his classic “A Night in Tunisia” to the date, was every bit Parker’s equal, with breathtaking runs that complemented his friend and colleague on the sax. The rhythm section of Max Roach and Charles Mingus was legendary even then. For all the accolades Mingus was to earn from his latter numbers and albums, one could almost forget his effortless, driving bass, providing counterpoint to Bud Powell’s nimble flights on the keyboard.

This is without a doubt a landmark recording; it’s never been out of print since it first came out, with dozens of versions. It is only six songs, not even an hour, but it packs such power in those few moments that you can’t believe it. The five men went on to reshape how we heard music for all time, and for one night they captured something exquisite. So close your eyes, put yourself in Toronto for a night, and listen as giants play. You will be rewarded.

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