One of a handful of musicians who can be said to have permanently
changed jazz, Charlie Parker was arguably the greatest saxophonist of
all time. He could play remarkably fast lines that, if slowed down to
half speed, would reveal that every note made sense.
Charles Christopher Parker was born on 29 August 1920, in Kansas City,
USA. Although he was born on the Kansas side of the state line, Parker
was actually raised across the Kaw River in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kansas City was where jazz and other forms of black music were
flourishing.His nickname was originally "Yardbird" due to his
propensity for eating fried chicken - later this was shortened to the
more poetic "Bird". Musicians talk of first hearing his alto saxophone
as if it were a religious conversion. Charlie Parker changed the face
of jazz and shaped the course of twentieth-century music.
Kansas City saxophonists were a competitive bunch. Ben Webster and
Herschel Evans both came from Kansas. Before they became national
celebrities they would challenge visiting sax stars to "blowing
matches". It is this artistically fruitful sense of competition that
provided Charlie Parker with his look. Live music could be heard at
all hours of the night, a situation resulting from lax application of
He first played baritone horn before switching to alto. Parker was so
infatuated with the rich Kansas City music scene that he dropped out
of school when he was 14 even though his musicianship at that point
was questionable (with his ideas coming out faster than his fingers
could play them). A premature appearance at the High Hat Club - w...
... middle of paper ...
...ying at the Town Hall months before his death in March
1955 was "as great as any period in his career". His last public
appearance was on 4 March 1955, at Birdland, the club named after him:
it was a fiasco - Parker and pianist Bud Powell rowed onstage, the
latter storming off followed shortly by bass player Charles Mingus.
Disillusioned, obese and racked by illness, Parker died eight days
later in the hotel suite of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, a
wealthy aristocrat and stalwart bebop fan.
Charlie Parker, who was a legendary figure during his lifetime, has if
anything grown in stature since his death. Clint Eastwood put together
a well-intentioned if simplified movie about aspects of his
life.Parker's influence on jazz was immense.
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