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Charlie "Bird" Parker a renowned Alto Saxophonist from the late 1930's to the early 1950's endured notoriety from his unusual way of playing the saxophone. Parker's way of playing the saxophone influenced other jazz musicians. Parker battled with his drugs and alcohol while in jazz clubs abroad. There are several aspects that Charlie "Bird" Parker faced while sweeping the jazz scene.
Charlie Christopher Parker Jr. was born on August 29,1920 in Kansas City, Kansas to Charlie Sr. and Addie Parker. Charlie's father was also an entertainer; he danced, sang, and played the piano on the black vaudeville circuit. One can say "Parker father presumably provided some musical influence," to young Charlie. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Parker) Parker father was absent from the home at time, so Parker saw his mother as the soul provider of the family.
Charlie Sr. affairs and alcoholism caused Addie to take custody of their son and ventured to Kansas City, Missouri when Parker was only eight years old. While settling down in Missouri, Addie worked nights to support the family, given Parker opportunity to roam around his new environment. In the late 1930`s to early 1940`s Missouri at the time was flourishing with blues, jazz, and gospel music. With this incentive in mind, Parker would gain entrance to local jazz clubs, such as the Club Keno.
Parker would frequent the club and sit in the balcony listening to one of his idol, Lester Young a member from the Basie band. In 1934 the experience from the Jazz club influenced Parker so that he joined his high school band. There he played the baritone horn. Not pleased with the long, low note of the baritone horn he eventually switched to the Alto Saxophone. Parker practiced diligently with his saxophone, and when he didn`t practice the sax, he visited "jazz club picking up jazz concepts." (http://www.jazzine.com/jazzstaff/biographies/Charlie_Parker.phtml)
In 1935 feeling sure of his self, Parker a mere fifteen year old sat in on a legendary Jam session conducted by Jo Jones. Full of excitement, Parker "faltered musically and Jones showed his displeasure by throwing his cymbal at Charlie feet." (http://web1.umkc.edu/org./kcjazz/jazzfolk/parkc_oo.htm) This didn`t discourage Parker from his destiny. From 1935 to 1938 Parker played with local jazz bands learning and experiencing different scales and intervals of a saxophone. In 1938 he joined Jay McShann small band called "jump."
On the road with McShann is when Parker received the nickname "Bird". The story went as told "When touring with McShann, they accidentally hit a chicken (a yard bird) with their car and Parker made them stop to pick it up so he could have his landlady cook it for him."(Burleigh 67). The nickname "Yard bird" and "Bird" stayed with Parker ever since. Rumors as well as action surfaced about his drug usage. It's believed while still a teenager touring with McShann`s
band, Parker was in a car accident. The hospital gave him morphine for pain and Parker soon became a drug addict using herion. Parker left McShann band for a couple of years and played with the guitarist Biddy Fleet and a pianist Buster Smith. Fleet taught Parker instrumental harmony and Smith helped Parker perfect his technique. Parker eventually united with McShann band in 1940.
While playing "Cherokee" in a New York club, Parker experimented with different changes and he discovered Bebop. Bebop was considered to be cool jazz. Touring with McShann they recorded "Hottie Blues", which featured Charlie's first solo. It was a landmark in jazz history. His solo "Electrified the musicians that heard it".(Gourse pg.197). Parker captured the attention of jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie and the Thelonious Monk with his new way of saxophone playing. Parker teamed up with Gillespie in 1945 and performed several ensembles, taking their act on a six week nightclub adventure.
Parker's heavy schedule caused him to have a nervous breakdown in 1946 where he was committed to Camarillo State Hospital, an institution for the mentally ill. Parker stayed there for a total of six months where he regained his health, kicked the habit of his addiction and focused on his music. He returned to New York and put together his own quintet which consisted of Miles Davis (trumpet), Max Roach (drums), Duke Jordan (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), and himself on sax. In 1947 Parker was asked to play with one of his former band members Gillespie and his band at Carnegie Hall."
(http://www.jazzine.com/jazzstuff/biographies/charlie_parker.phtml) The event held a record number attendance. Parker's music became popular and so did his addiction to heroin. The down side to Parker's heroin addiction caused young impressionable artists to look for success through the uses of heroin. Parker stated in a magazine "Any musician who says his plan better either on "tea", the needle or when he is juiced is a plain straight liar." http://www.jazzine.com/jazzstuff/biographies/charlie_parker.phtml
Parker returned to New York in 1951 only to be arrested for possession of heroin. Parker's cabaret card was revoked due to the arrest, putting him in a financial misfortune. He returned in 1953 with a reputation of not following through and being unpredictable. Many jazz clubs rejected him when he came for work. Following on hard times Parker tried to commit suicide twice by ingesting iodine in 1954. His health deteriorated and he succumbed to bleeding ulcers, pneumonia, and cirrhosis of the liver on March 12, 1955 retiring the musician for good. Charlie "Bird" Parker Jr. influenced numerous followers such as saxophonist Ornette Colman with using a plastic saxophone, Miles Davis with changing intervals, John Zorn, Afro-Cubans band, and Wynton Marsalis. Parker was an innovator in transforming jazz to a new level of creativity.
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"Charli Parker." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Dec 2014