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Charlie Parker

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. "Bird," along with his contemporaries Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, is considered a founder of bebop; in reality he was an intuitive player who simply was expressing himself. Rather than basing his improvisations closely on the melody as was done in swing, he was a master of chordal improvising, creating new melodies that were based on the structure of a song. In fact, Bird wrote several future standards (such as "Anthropology," "Ornithology," "Scrapple from the Apple," and "Ko Ko," along with such blues numbers as "Now's the Time" and "Parker's Mood") that "borrowed" and modernized the chord structures of older tunes. Parker's remarkable technique, fairly original sound, and ability to come up with harmonically advanced phrases that could be both logical and whimsical were highly influential. By 1950, it was impossible to play "modern jazz" with credibility without closely studying Charlie Parker.

Born in Kansas City, KS, Charlie Parker grew up in Kansas City, MO. He first played baritone horn before switching to alto. Parker was so enamored of 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). After a few humiliations at jam sessions, Bird worked hard woodshedding over one summer, building up his technique and mastery of the fundamentals. By 1937, when he first joined Jay McShann's Orchestra, he was already a long way toward becoming a major player.

Charlie Parker, who was early on influenced by Lester Young and the sound of Buster Smith, visited New York for the first time in 1939, working as a dishwasher at one point so he could hear Art Tatum play on a nightly basis. He made his recording debut with Jay McShann in 1940, creating remarkable solos with a small group from McShann's orchestra on "Oh, Lady Be Good" and "Honeysuckle Rose." When the McShann big band arrived in New York in 1941, Parker had short solos on a few of their studio blues records, and his broadcasts with the orchestra greatly impressed (and sometimes scared) other musicians who had never heard his ideas before. Parker, who had met and jammed with Dizzy Gillespie for the first time in 1940, had a short stint with Noble Sissle's band in 1942, played tenor with Earl Hines' sadly unrecorded bop band of 1943, and spent a few months in 1944 with Billy Eckstine's orchestra, leaving before that group made their first records. Gillespie was also in the Hines and Eckstine big bands, and the duo became a team starting in late 1944.

Although Charlie Parker recorded with Tiny Grimes' combo in 1944, it was his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie in 1945 that startled the jazz world. To hear the two virtuosos play rapid unisons on such new songs as "Groovin' High," "Dizzy Atmosphere," "Shaw 'Nuff," "Salt Peanuts," and "Hot House," and then launch into fiery and unpredictable solos could be an upsetting experience for listeners much more familiar with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. Although the new music was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the recording strike of 1943-1944 resulted in bebop arriving fully formed on records, seemingly out of nowhere.

Unfortunately, Charlie Parker was a heroin addict ever since he was a teenager, and some other musicians who idolized Bird foolishly took up drugs in the hope that it would elevate their playing to his level. When Gillespie and Parker (known as "Diz and Bird") traveled to Los Angeles and were met with a mixture of hostility and indifference (except by younger musicians who listened closely), they decided to return to New York. Impulsively, Parker cashed in his ticket, ended up staying in L.A., and, after some recordings and performances (including a classic version of "Oh, Lady Be Good" with Jazz at the Philharmonic), the lack of drugs (which he combated by drinking an excess of liquor) resulted in a mental breakdown and six months of confinement at the Camarillo State Hospital. Released in January 1947, Parker soon headed back to New York and engaged in some of the most rewarding playing of his career, leading a quintet that included Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach. Parker, who recorded simultaneously for the Savoy and Dial labels, was in peak form during the 1947-1951 period, visiting Europe in 1949 and 1950, and realizing a lifelong dream to record with strings starting in 1949 when he switched to Norman Granz's Verve label.

But Charlie Parker, due to his drug addiction and chance-taking personality, enjoyed playing with fire too much. In 1951, his cabaret license was revoked in New York (making it difficult for him to play in clubs) and he became increasingly unreliable. Although he could still play at his best when he was inspired (such as at the 1953 Massey Hall concert with Gillespie), Bird was heading downhill. In 1954, he twice attempted suicide before spending time in Bellevue. His health, shaken by a very full if brief life of excesses, gradually declined, and when he died in March 1955 at the age of 34, he could have passed for 64.

Charlie Parker, who was a legendary figure during his lifetime, has if anything grown in stature since his death. Virtually all of his studio recordings are available on CD along with a countless number of radio broadcasts and club appearances. Clint Eastwood put together a well-intentioned if simplified movie about aspects of his life (Bird). Parker's influence, after the rise of John Coltrane, has become more indirect than direct, but jazz would sound a great deal different if Charlie Parker had not existed. The phrase "Bird Lives" (which was scrawled as graffiti after his death) is still very true. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

I've been listening to Charlie Parker for over forty years and still can't believe it...
Have your self a treat, dig yard Bird sweet. God say pray, Bird said PLAY
None have ever flown so high, fly Bird fly! ~ American Mike
SCOTCH AND CIGARETTE SMOKE..ALL NIGHT LONG,baby
BIRD FLYS in between the lines comping his own masters of disguise in the bebop era.. so extemporanou s e l h s b o e b p o e b e o p b e o p b o p e o p b p F F L Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y E V E R Y O N E C O M M U N I C A T E Y B Y S S S S L E Y B S Y E L F J , . W F 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1
this is as I first heard Bird in a smokie {tea} basement that excited me as much or more than Bluetrane, which I had heard some time before. Bird is so note by note explicit in interpretati o n of chordal sequence, his death is that he had spent the flame, or as the conspiratist s say, Blakey killed him to be the King of Bop
antdestra
Donald Fagan (Steely Dan)- Parkers' Band/Pretzel Logic 1974

Savoy sides presents a new saxophone sensation
It's Parker's band with a smooth style of syncopation
Kansas City born and growing
You won't believe what the boys are blowing
You got to come on man
And take a piece of Mister Parker's band

You'll be riding by, bareback on your armadillo
You'll be grooving high or relaxing at Camarillo
Suddenly the music hits you
It's a bird in flight that just can't quit you

You got to come on man
And
ABSOLUTE GENIUS!!!!!
Was Taken too Soon, What a jazz Great!!
Defined sax playing... a master...mis s good jazz and big bands and people like Parker and Ventura.
slong7
I mean, what is there really to say? No justice would be done by some mere words of compliment. One of the most important figures in the history of music, not just jazz.
The version of perdido that played on my pandora app is different. I don't know what's up with that.

Anyway, Bird lives!
laraiine77
Top notch! They are laying the pavement! How can you not love it?!
bird is one of the first names for sure i associate with classic legendary jazz just dig this man so much
ebingb
Bird takes me to the lonely and confidential places of my soul
I'd buy that for a dollar ! ! !
mooyoo.77
BIRD says it all with his HORN, bird lives , INDEED!!!!!
verily, a genius among all musicians.
He's not just running scales like most
bird singlehanded l y introduced me to the world of jazz
Charlie Parker plays Be Bop
Charlie Parker plays saxophone
Charlie Parker plays Be Bop
Never leave your cat alone....
i really like bird
Listen to and study Bird. Listen to and study Bird, listen to, and study, Charlie Parker.
hman
Bird's ever-green, never dated. To be able to do anything as well as he played that horn!
Listening to Bird with a trained ear is like taking a lesson in perfect improv.

Mike Giordano-Pia n i s t
Bird...Thank you.
Bird is the word!
Great tone, phrasing, harmonic invention - the Yardbird. The man who launched a million imitators with none as good as the original. Although there was great tragedy in his life the musical legacy he left will live as long as there are ears to appreciate it. God Bless the Bird!
Night in Tunisia Live-Wow! BF
So sad Charlie Parker died at such an early age. Had he lived longer he might have been able to jam with Lawrence Welk. Imagine Bird smokin’ out six notes a second while Larry does the "bellows shake." I mean what's not to love?
Bird Lives! Man how true that is. Genius. Don't try to copy it. Don't try to understand it. Just listen to it and enjoy it! Bird lives forever!
noonecutie
When I listen to Bird I see myself sitting in a 50s niteclub dressed to the nines,cigare t t e smoke filling the air,the sound of laughter,peo p l e talking low and nodding their heads to the cool sound of his music
Unquestionab l y the greatest jazz saxophonist, that is until Mr. John Coltrane came around. Now they stand like two twin Himalayan peaks that ALL saxophonists shall forever be indebted to... Just can't get enough of either one of them! I saw Diz play, saw Miles, saw Candido, saw Max Roach and all kinda players that played with Bird. Sure would have loved to see the man himself play live!
bird and diz rules; excelent jazz music
It was difficult for me to come to terms with CP. In comparison to the tradition, his live recordings sounded normally manic and out of control. Way out on a limb and continuing to climb... At one point however I discovered a badly scratched 10 inch LP with blues tunes mostly from the famous Savoy and Dial recordings (his creme de creme). They were an instant joy to savor and listen to again and again. Since then one can rarely get enough...
Charlie "Bird" Parker! Creator of Bebop! I love him and his work! BIRD LIVES!!
candybarrart i s t
I named my son after him: Parker Sellers
dpvb317
Bird Lives!
maureenwilso n 5 2 5
I LOVE CHARLIE PARKER.....T H E BEST.....LIS T E N TO HIM ALL THE TIME. I WISH I WAS ALIVE TO HAVE MET HIM AND HEAR HIM PLAY LIVE.
MAUREEN.
jasxain
It doesn't matter where I am, the music sings and I stand ...

C
the horn was an extension of his voice and what beautiful words were put into sounds. thanxs.
What else can one say? Along with Armstrong, Bix, and who? he changed jazz forever, and unlike many others, he and Diz swung from their heels.
*love*
jasxain
Amazing animation ... simply exquisite.. .. ..
Charlie Yardbird Parker was the best !
When Bird and Dizzy blew, their sounds made sense.
It would be great if todays wannabees did the same.
digitalharve s t 1

way,way beyond category!!!! !
Charlie Parker is the founder of modern jazz he, was an intuitive player who simply was expressing himself. His style and graceful tunes will never be duplicated.

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