Charlie Parker and McKusick's Suit


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In early 1945, saxophonist Hal McKusick found himself in Los Angeles sharing a hotel room with arranger and pianist George Handy. Weeks earlier, Hal and Handy had been in Boston with Boyd Raeburn's band. But just before Christmas 1944, they quit in protest. Raeburn was handing solos meant for tenor saxophonist Al Cohn's to alto saxophonist Johnny Bothwell, a move they felt made little musical sense. In a burst of bravado, Hal and Handy decided to fly to the West Coast shortly after touching down in New York from Boston. When they arrived in California, they lived at a hotel briefly, taking on playing and writing jobs in L.A. and San Francisco. By the end of 1945, Hal was rooming in Los Angeles with pianist Joe Albany's family.

Hal picks up the story:

“Joe's real last name was Albani. His family was from Italy. They were lovely people, and the food was fantastic. Joe was originally an accordion player, and he had recently started playing piano, which was ideal for me because we could play a lot together at his house.

“When I moved in, I brought along a double-breasted striped suit that a gifted Chinese tailor had made for me in San Francisco. I bought it while I was working up there with Ziggy Elman's big band at the San Francisco Theater.

“In December 1946, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie came to L.A. to play at Billy Berg's in Hollywood. Joe and I had heard about him so we went to see him and Dizzy, who I already knew from Boyd's band. At Billy Berg's, Bird and Dizzy were amazing.

“A day or two later I went to the closet to get my suit, but it was gone. When I asked Joe if he had seen it, he said matter-of-factly, 'I gave it to Bird.' Joe wanted to give Parker a welcome gift. In Joe's state of mind, he found it easy to lift my special attire from the closet with no thought that I would mind.

“Strangely, though, he was right. I was happy to hear Bird, and never mentioned it to Joe or Bird. We were so happy to be able to hear Parker in person. That seems to have been the most important thing. I was honored that he was wearing my suit at Billy Berg's." [Photo of Charlie Parker and Howard McGhee on the West Coast]

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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