“Charlie Parker, born in 1920, is the Orson Welles of jazz, the musician who, sparking an artistic revolution while still in his own extreme youth, both rejuvenated the art form metaphorically and turned it into an overt province of literal youth. He made jazz a wellspring of daring innovation and radical experimentation and self-consciously commandeered its popular and mass-marketed modes into a form of the avant-garde. That transformation is the subject of my favorite historical reissue of the year, “Classic Savoy Be-Bop Sessions 1945-49,” a ten-disk set from Mosaic that’s centered on the style’s second generation of musicians and the historic records that they made in their early twenties and even—as with, most important, Sonny Rollins—as teen-agers.
Yet if the music in the Mosaic set doesn’t sound so avant-garde anymore it’s because, like other avant-gardes of the time—including Welles’s cinematic advances and Abstract Expressionism—it has come to be assimilated into the general cultural vocabulary. What these movements have in common is the trend toward abstraction during wartime. War had broken out in Europe, Asia, and Africa; then the United States was attacked and at war; and, while the war was being fought, artists who were at home at a time of the unfathomable, the unrepresentable, and the inexpressible found alternate means to distill its moods and tones into extreme styles.“