Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Charles "Bird" Parker, Jr. (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Early in his career Parker was dubbed "Yardbird" (there are many contradictory stories of the name's origin ). It was later shortened to "Bird" and remained Parker's nickname for the rest of his life and inspiration for the titles of his works, such as "Yardbird Suite" and "Bird Feathers".
Place in jazz history
Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He was the only child of Charles and Addie Parker. Charles was often absent because of his alcoholic lifestyle. A persistent myth, repeated by many reputable sources, including the Encyclopædia Britannica, is that Christopher was Parker's second Christian name.
Charlie Parker displayed no sign of musical talent as a child. Parker's father presumably provided some musical influence; he was a pianist, dancer and singer on the T.O.B.A. circuit, although he later became a Pullman waiter or chef on the railways. His mother worked nights at the local Western Union. His biggest influence however was a young trombone player who taught him the basics of improvisation.
Parker began playing the saxophone at age 11 and then at age 14 he joined his school's band using a rented school instrument. One story goes that Parker, having never been taught formally, was terrible, and thrown out of the band. Experiencing occasional discouragements of this sort, at one point Parker broke off his already constant practicing. In 1937 Parker played at a concert that included Jo Jones on drums, who tossed a cymbal at Parker's feet in impatience with his playing, and to remove him from the stand. It is generally believed that after that, exasperated and determined, Parker improved the quality of practicing, learning the blues, "Cherokee" and "rhythm changes" in all twelve keys, and eventually become a virtuoso through sheer hard work. In an interview with Paul Desmond he said he spent 3-4 years practicing up to 15 hours a day. Rumor has it that he used to play the same melodies in all twelve keys. The story, whilst uncited, would help to explain the fact that Parker often played in unconventional concert pitch key signatures, like E (which transposes down to C# for the alto sax). Groups led by Count Basie and Bennie Moten were the leading Kansas City ensembles, and doubtless influenced Parker. He continued to play with local bands in jazz clubs around Kansas City, Missouri, where he perfected his technique with the assistance of Buster Smith, whose dynamic transitions to double and triple time certainly influenced Parker's developing style. In 1937 Parker joined pianist Jay McShann's territory band, and was able to tour with him to the nightclubs and other venues of the southwest region of the USA, as well as Chicago and New York City. Parker made his recording debut with McShann's band.
In 1939, Parker moved to New York City. There he pursued a career in music, but held several other jobs as well. One of these was as a dishwasher, making $9 a week, at Jimmie's Chicken Shack, a restaurant where famous pianist Art Tatum was playing at the time. (Parker's later style was in some ways reminiscent of Tatum's, with dazzling, high-speed arpeggios and sophisticated use of harmony.)
In 1942 Parker left McShann's band and played with Earl Hines for seven months. The early history of bebop is difficult to document because of the strike of 1942-1943 by the American Federation of Musicians, during which there were no official recordings. Nevertheless we know that Parker was one of a group of young musicians who congregated in after-hours clubs in Harlem such as Minton's Playhouse and Clark Monroe's Uptown House. These young iconoclasts included trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, guitarist Charlie Christian, and drummers Max Roach and Kenny 'Klook' Clarke. The beboppers' attitude was summed up in a famous quotation attributed to Monk by Mary Lou Williams: "We wanted a music that they couldn't play" — "they" being either the (white) bandleaders who had taken over and profited from swing music and or unwelcome fellow musicians wishing to jam with Parker, Gillespie and others. The group played in venues on the now famous 52nd Street including Three Deuces and The Onyx. In his time in NYC, he also learned much from notable music teacher Maury Deutsch.
By now, Parker was emerging as a leading figure in the emerging bebop scene. According to an interview Parker gave in the 1950s, one night in 1939, he was playing "Cherokee" in a jam session with guitarist William 'Biddy' Fleet when he hit upon a method for developing his solos that enabled him to play what he had been hearing in his head for some time, by building on the chords' extended intervals, such as ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths.
Early in its development, this new type of jazz was rejected and disdained by many older, more established jazz musicians, whom the beboppers, in response, called 'moldy figs'. However, some musicians, such as Coleman Hawkins and Benny Goodman, were more positive about its emergence. It was not until 1945 that Parker's collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie had a substantial effect on the jazz world. One of their first (and greatest) small-group performances together was only discovered and issued in 2005: a concert in New York's Town Hall on June 22, 1945 (now available on Uptown Records).
On November 26, 1945 Parker led a record date for the Savoy label, which was once marketed, during the LP era, as the "greatest Jazz session ever". Although this may have been hyperbole, the Savoy sessions produced an astounding collection of recordings — in spite of Dizzy Gillespie having to deputize on piano for some of the tracks. Among the tracks recorded during this session are "Koko" (based on the chords of "Cherokee"), "Now's the Time" (a twelve bar blues incorporating a riff later used in the late 1949 R&B dance hit "The Hucklebuck"), "Billie's Bounce", and "Thriving on a Riff."
Shortly afterwards, a trip to Los Angeles by the Parker/Gillespie band to fulfill an engagement at Billy Berg's club was less than successful. Most of the band soon decided to return to New York. Parker, though, stayed in California, where his self-destructive lifestyle was to catch up with him.
As a teenager, he had developed a morphine addiction while in a hospital after an automobile accident, and subsequently became addicted to heroin, which was to haunt him throughout his life and to ultimately contribute to his death. Parker's habit was to cause him to miss gigs and to be fired for being high. To continue his "buzz" he frequently resorted to busking on the streets for drug money. Parker's example was typical of the strong connection between narcotics and jazz at the time.
Although he produced many brilliant recordings during this period, Parker's behavior became increasingly erratic. Heroin was difficult to obtain after his dealer was arrested, and Parker began to drink heavily to compensate for this. A recording for the Dial label from July 29, 1946 provides evidence of his condition. Prior to this session Parker drank about a quart of whiskey. According to the liner notes of, Bird on Dial Volume 1 Parker missed most of the first two bars of his first chorus on the track, "Max is making wax". When he finally did come in, he swayed wildly and once spun all the way around, going badly off mic. On the next tune, "Lover Man", Ross Russell was enlisted to hold Parker in place in front of the microphone. On the final track recorded that evening, Parker begins a solo with a solid first eight bars. On his second eight bars, however, Parker begins to struggle, and a desperate Howard McGhee, playing trumpet on the session, shouts, "Blow!" at Parker. McGhee's bellow is audible on the recording. Some, including Charles Mingus, consider this version of "Lover Man" to be among his greater recordings despite its flaws. Nevertheless, Bird hated the recording and never forgave his producer Ross Russell for releasing the sub-par record (and re-recorded the tune in 1953 for Verve, this time in stellar form, but perhaps lacking some of the passionate emotion in the earlier, problematic attempt).
The night of the "Lover Man" session, Parker was drinking in his hotel room. He went down to the hotel lobby stark naked and asked to use the phone, several times. He was refused on each attempt and the hotel manager eventually locked him in his room. At some point in the night he set fire to his mattress with a cigarette, then ran through the hotel lobby wearing only his socks. He was arrested and committed to Camarillo State Hospital, where he remained for six months.
Coming out of the hospital, Parker was initially clean and healthy, and proceeded to do some of the best playing and recording of his career. Before leaving California, he recorded "Relaxin' at Camarillo," in reference to his hospital stay. He returned to New York and recorded dozens of sides for the Savoy and Dial labels that remain some of the high points of his recorded output. Many of these were with his so-called "classic quintet" that included trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Max Roach. The highlights of these sessions include a series of slower-tempo performances of American popular songs including "Embraceable You" and "Bird of Paradise" (based on "All the Things You Are").
Despite many of the compositions which bear his name being based on earlier pieces from the American songbook, Parker's legacy as a deviser of jazz standards is significant. Such pieces include "Anthropology", "Confirmation", and "Yardbird Suite", which have been performed by numerous other musicians. Like his solos, his compositions are characterised by long, complex melodic lines and a minimum of repetition - generally speaking, an eight-bar segment will not contain any repeated motifs or sequences.
On November 3rd, 1949 Norman Granz arranged for Charlie Parker, a leader of bebop jazz, and a group of professional chamber orchestra musicians to record an album of ballads.
Charlie Parker With Strings
By 1950, much of the jazz world was under Parker's sway. His solos were transcribed and copied; legions of saxophonists imitated his playing note-for-note (in response to these pretenders, Parker's erstwhile bandmate Charles Mingus titled a song "Gunslinging Bird" (meaning "If Charlie Parker were a gunslinger, there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats") featured on the album Mingus Dynasty. In this regard, he is perhaps only comparable to Louis Armstrong: both men set the standard for their instruments for decades, and very few escaped their influence.
In 1953, Parker was invited to perform at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada, where he was joined by Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Max Roach. Unfortunately, the concert clashed with a televised heavyweight boxing match between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott and as a result was poorly attended. Thankfully, for the sake of posterity, Mingus recorded the concert, and the album Jazz at Massey Hall is often cited as one of the finest recordings of a live jazz performance.
One of Parker's longstanding desires was to perform with a string section as he was a keen student of classical music. Contemporaries reported that he was most interested in the music and formal innovations of Igor Stravinsky, and longed to engage in a project akin to what became known as "Third Stream Music"; a new kind of music, incorporating both jazz and Euro-classical elements as opposed to merely incorporating a string section into performance of jazz standards. When he did record and perform with strings, some fans thought it was a "sell out" and a pandering to popular tastes. Time demonstrated Parker's move a wise one: Charlie Parker with Strings sold better than his other releases, and his version of "Just Friends" is seen as one of his best performances. In an interview, he considered it to be his best recording to date.
Parker was known for often showing up to performances without an instrument and borrowing someone else's at the last moment. At more than one venue he played on a plastic Grafton saxophone; later, saxophonist Ornette Coleman used this brand of plastic sax in his early career. On one particular occasion before a concert in Toronto, Canada, he had sold his saxophone to buy drugs, and at the last minute, he, Dizzy Gillespie and other members of Charlie's entourage went running around Toronto trying to find a saxophone. After scouring all the downtown pawnshops open at the time, they were only able to find a Grafton, which Parker proceeded to use at the concert that night. This concert is documented on the album "The Quintet, Live at Massey Hall". The album is considered one of the greatest live recordings in Jazz history.
Parker died while watching Tommy Dorsey on television in the suite at the Stanhope Hotel belonging to his friend and patroness Nica de Koenigswarter. Though the official cause of death was (lobar) pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer, his death was hastened by his drug and alcohol abuse. The 34-year-old Parker was so haggard that the coroner mistakenly estimated Parker's age to be between 50 and 60.
Parker left a widow, Chan Parker, a stepdaughter, Kim Parker, who is also a musician, and a son, Baird Parker; their later lives are chronicled in Chan Parker's autobiography, "My Life in E Flat."
In 1984, Parker was posthumously awarded a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
During his lifetime, tribute was paid to Parker when a new nightclub in New York was named Birdland in his honor in 1949.
Three years later, George Shearing wrote "Lullaby of Birdland," which was named for both Parker and the nightclub.
The legend "Bird Lives" first appeared as graffiti in New York City subways a few hours after Parker's passing. For this, the poet Ted Joans is usually credited.
Charlie Parker has been an inspiration to countless jazz musicians, non-jazz musicians (such as the classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts), painters, poets, and writers throughout the world.
The mythic Charlie "Bird" Parker
A memorial to Parker was dedicated in 1999 in Kansas City at 17th Terrace and the Paseo, next to the American Jazz Museum featuring a 10-foot tall bronze head sculpted by Robert Graham.
In New York City, Avenue B between 7th and 10th Streets was renamed Charlie Parker Place in 1992. The townhouse in which Parker had lived with Chan and their children, on Avenue B between 9th and 10th streets, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Every August, the Tribes Gallery in New York's Lower East Side sponsors a Charlie Parker Festival that includes musical performances, art exhibits, poetry readings, and culminates with a street festival and outdoor concert on August 29 (Parker's birthday) in Tompkins Square Park, which is located on Charlie Parker Place (see above).
Every weekday morning, disc jockey Phil Schaap plays Parker's music on WKCR in New York. His show, called Birdflight, is devoted to Parker's music and has been running since the early 1970s. Memorials and tributes
Lennie Tristano's overdubbed solo piano piece "Requiem" was recorded in tribute to Parker shortly after his death. It begins with a classically-tinged introduction, and then turns into a slow blues that gradually accumulates layers of overdubbing — one of the earliest experiments in jazz with multiple overdubbing.
Deeply touched by Charlie Parker's death, Moondog wrote his famous "Bird's Lament" in his memory. Moondog affirmed that he had met Charlie Parker in the streets of New York and that they had planned to jam together.
The Californian ensemble Supersax has harmonized many of Parker's improvisations for a five-piece saxophone section, which to many listeners bring new life to them, whereas others consider the arrangements as somewhat constructed.
Saxophonist Phil Woods recorded a tribute concert for Parker, and in an interview stated that he thought Parker had said everything he needed to say.
Weather Report's jazz fusion track and highly acclaimed big band standard "Birdland", from the Heavy Weather album (1977), was a dedication by bandleader Joe Zawinul to both Charlie Parker and the New York 52nd Street club itself. The piece featured Jaco Pastorius playing electric fretless bass. (Pastorius had made a name for himself when he included on his debut solo album an astounding rendition of the Charlie Parker and Miles Davis standard "Donna Lee".) The Manhattan Transfer made a vocalese cover version of the composition set to lyrics by Jon Hendricks. Musical tributes
A biographical film called Bird, starring Forest Whitaker as Parker and directed by Clint Eastwood, was released in 1988.
In 1984, legendary modern dance choreographer Alvin Ailey created a piece entitled "For Bird--With Love" in honor of Parker. The piece chronicles his life, from his early career to his failing health.
In 2005, the Selmer Paris saxophone manufacturer commissioned a special "Tribute to Bird" alto saxophone, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Charlie Parker (1955-2005). This saxophone will be built until 2010, each one featuring a unique engraving and an original design.
Parker's performances of "I Remember You" and "Parker's Mood" were selected by Harold Bloom for inclusion on his short list of the "twentieth-century American Sublime", the greatest works of American art produced in the 20th century.
The Oris Watch Company created a limited edition timepiece in Charlie Parker's name. The watch features the word "bird" at the 4 o'clock hour, in honor of Parker's nickname and signifying "Jazz, until 4 in the morning". Other tributes
Charlie Parker has become an icon of popular culture. His name is dropped by rock musicians and he has appeared in comics.
Charlie Parker in popular culture
Here are some of Charlie Parker's most prominent tunes
A biographical song entitled "Parker's Band" was recorded by Steely Dan on their 1974 album Pretzel Logic.
Charlie Parker is mentioned in a 1976 song by Jethro Tull called "From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser"
The avant-garde trombonist George Lewis released Homage to Charles Parker in 1979, an album that offers a unique combination of electronic music and the blues.
Parker is alluded to in the 1983 Billy Joel song "Christie Lee". In it, the lyric says: "You know the man knew "The Bird" like the Bible/Yes, the man could blow an educated axe/but Christie Lee was more than he knew how to handle/she didn't need another man, all she wanted was the sax".
The Spanish heavy metal band Saratoga's 1999 album Vientos de Guerra contains a song titled "Charlie se fué" ("Charlie has gone"). The song talks about Charlie, who has gone with God on a day of March. Parker died on March 12.
TISM's The White Albun (2004) contains a song titled "Tonight Harry's Practice Visits The Home Of Charlie "Bird" Parker". The song focuses on celebrity resentment and the possibility that taking drugs, like Parker did, will make the otherwise dull celebrities more interesting. The title of the song refers to Australian television show Harry's Practice and, more specifically, the segment where Dr. Harry Cooper would visit a celebrity, in this case, the visit is to Charlie "Bird" Parker's house.
Duane Allman devised a unique slide guitar technique that enabled him to mimic the sounds of chirping birds, stating in at least one interview that this was his tribute to Bird. This can be heard in numerous live recordings, most notably "Mountain Jam" on The Allman Brothers Band's CDs Eat a Peach and The Fillmore Concerts (shortly before the drum interlude). Another, more delicate, version is in the song "Finding Her" on Boz Scaggs' self-titled debut album, first released in 1969.
Phoebe Snow mentions Charlie Parker in her song I Don't Want The Night To End from her 1974 album titled Phoebe Snow.
Scrapple from the Apple
Moose the Mooche
Parker's song "Segment" is featured in the 2006 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
A Far Side cartoon entitled "Charlie Parker's private hell" shows him locked in a recording booth while a whistling devil pipes in nothing but new age music.
In an episode of the anime series Cowboy Bebop entitled "Honky Tonk Women", the character Jet Black mentions Parker in a conversation between himself and his partner Spike Spiegel about a dream he had the night before.
Charley Parker, the real name of comic book character Golden Eagle, is a reference to Parker.
In the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, Dickie Greenleaf (played by Jude Law) named his boat "Bird" in tribute to Parker. Other
See also Charlie Parker discography
Parker made extensive recordings for three labels — Savoy and Dial best document his early work, while Verve is representative of his later career:
Many live recordings, of varying quality, are also available. A small selection of the many are listed below:
Special mention should be made of the legendary Dean Benedetti recordings, a huge trove of live material recorded by an obsessive fan. Long thought lost or merely mythical, these eventually resurfaced and were released as a set by Mosaic Records.
Live at Townhall w. Dizzy (1945, first released in 2005)
Bird and Diz at Carnegie Hall (1947)
Bird on 52nd Street (1948)
Jazz at the Philharmonic (1949)
Charlie Parker All Stars Live at the Royal Roost (1949)
Charlie Parker with Strings (1950, first released in 1981)
One Night in Birdland (1950)
Bird at the High Hat (1953)
Charlie Parker at Storyville (1953)
Jazz At Massey Hall (1953) Bibliography
Aebersold, Jamie, editor (1978). Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Michael H. Goldsen.
Yamaguchi, Masaya, editor (1955). Yardbird Originals. New York: Charles Colin, 2005. Originally published in 1955.
Posted by juicy juicy at 8:16 AM