The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall

Arguing for something's current cultural relevance is worthless anymore. But sitting down and putting on a great album is not. Welcome to the latest pressing of The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall.

Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie/Bud Powell/Max Roach/Charles Mingus

The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall

Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2012-05-15
UK Release Date: 2012-06-19
Label website

Here it is: allegedly the "greatest jazz concert ever." Generically known within cataloging circles as "The Quintet", this is the only show performed jointly by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus. Many a jazz aficionado would gladly sacrifice their grandmothers if it meant catching these five guys in action, yet this legendary 1953 Toronto program was surprisingly undersold. The concert was organized by the Toronto Jazz Society, a group of music enthusiasts who had less business savvy than your average promoter, so word did not get out as it should have. Most of the city went to see Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott pound each other that night. Bird arrived sans horn and borrowed a plastic alto (?) for the gig and was the only one properly paid afterward. Hardly an auspicious back story, huh? So it comes as little surprise that the gig was almost not recorded. That was the rhythm section's idea.

For years since fans of '50s modern jazz have praised Mingus and Roach's foresight to tape the show and Mingus' gumption to issue the recording on his own label (he was only 31 at the time). Since then, The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall has been re-released many, many times. A 2004 pressing on the Jazz Factory label Complete Jazz at Massey Hall brought the total count from six tracks to 14. For Concord's 2012 release, the format returns us to the original six tracks, the third being a medley of "All the Things You Are" and "52nd Street Theme".

Evidence of a remastering job is present, though not incredibly so. The jarring chop jobs of the editing are still there, and it's unlikely they'll ever be corrected (not that anyone cares). It does come with a new liner essay courtesy of music writer Ashley Kahn, telling a story that goes into less poetic detail than Bill Coss's original sleeve notes, which get printed three times in this reissue. Coss danced around Parker's demise while never using his proper name or his infamous nickname, instead referring to him as "Sparrow" and "Charlie Chan".

Beyond these details, the music has already been captured, the story has already been told, and the stuff of folklore continues to trickle down to younger and younger music fans who care to trace contemporary jazz to its bebop origins. Unlike many other legendary jazz LPs, The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall is less about the selected tunes and more about the documentation of an event. Not to say that the tunes don't enjoy a life of their own. On the contrary, the sparring, both verbal and intonated, between Parker and Gillespie on "Salt Peanuts" is singled out as a culmination of their tension and goof. Gillespie's own "Wee (Allen's Alley)" definitely gets treated to the Bird twist, bending the notes in a manner reminiscent of melodies from Bird & Diz -- not to mention Max Roach's pulverizing solo which sounds like it brought down a quarter of the house that night (since that's as big as the crowd got for this show).

The CD closes out with two hard bop standards, "Hot House" and "A Night in Tunisia". Mingus, who by this point was more used to being bossed as a sideman and just learning to become a boss in his own right, strolls through the former after Powell's intimidating Tatum-like (re: God-like) solo. The latter remains one of the stranger combinations of a catchy melody and dizzying rhythmic style shifts. Although Roach is low in the mix on this one and Diz's trumpet nearly clips during a sustained note, it's clear that this was the kind of standard these guys could play in their sleep.

The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall remains the same record it has always been. Sonically, nothing profound is added, and nothing is taken away. Historically, Kahn's liner notes tell the story in a practical way. "The greatest jazz concert ever"? The best judges for this claim are the few in attendance that night since jazz's very existence thrives on organic elements such as interactivity and eyewitnesses. But if adversity has taught us anything about art it's that great pains bring great gains. Since 1953, this record has been our gain, our link to an era that many people in my generation seemingly have nothing in common with. Like the great American novel, it continues to make its rounds every few years, placing its mark on the young and opening the doors or reevaluation to the old. Whatever the circumstances, The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall stands on its own and then some.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.