I sometimes shake my head and wonder what the two of them could have talked about when they met in the studio that day. Did their personalities clash as much as their music did? My guess is yes, though there is no way to be sure. As far as I know, the two never played together again.
The first time I heard Bird and Diz I thought it was a shame that Rich had played the drums — Max Roach or Kenny Clarke, I felt, would have been a better choice. Monk had few solos (though his backing is brilliant), but his piano penetrates the listener like a freshly sharpened stake. Rich’s flashy swing drumming, by contrast, rides on top of the music, as if to ask, “How about this? Or this?” in the process tossing a wet blanket over what Monk is doing.
Nevertheless, when I played the album again not long ago, strangely, I found myself convinced that, whatever else one might say, Rich’s drumming is actually fantastic. It still comes across as over the top and out of place, but — and I may understand this better now because I am older — that very excess gives the session its unique flavour, and makes it so much fun. Indeed, it is Rich’s unreflective, unrelenting drumming that forces Monk to assert the direction of his solitary musical path so firmly. Had it been Roach or Clarke, Monk and the others might have stayed within their comfort zone and never pushed themselves to that point. Then we might well have turned to other recordings to find Charlie Parker’s best performance.