Jazz Friday: Night in Tunisia and “The Break”

There is a jazz classic, called Night in Tunisia written by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli in 1942. It’s a great song that starts with this sort-of desert vamp that’s infectious. The bass line really sells it. According to Wikipedia, Night in Tunisia is available on 500 different currently available CD’s. If you play the below YouTube clip you’ll probably recognize it. 

I love this song but for me the story goes deeeper. Back when I was a teenager and obsessed on jazz while surrounded by a group of friends that also obsessed on jazz, we often talked about “the break”. The break is a portion of Night in Tunisia after they finish the first run-through of the melody. Before the first soloist starts, the band comes to an abrupt stop and the soloist gets a few bars of silence to perform the be-bop equivalent of shredding. In the above recording, the break is played by Charlie Parker at the 1:18 mark. It’s glorious. My jazz-nerd pals and I would always challenge each other to see who could “break” better. To this day, every time I listen to this song I always stop what I’m doing when the song gets to the break and smile.

There are several notable breaks worth mentioning. In addition to the one by Charlie Parker (iTunes), I’d also recommend checking out Ella Fitzgerald’s break (iTunes). Finally, for fun, you should watch Dizzy play Night in Tunisia below. He brought so much joy to jazz. Also, Arturo Sandoval crushes the break at 1:50. If you watch the whole video, there are several breaks. At the end, Dizzy explains how he wrote the song. I’m pretty sure you’ll smile at least once while watching.