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Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 190
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Saxophone virtuoso Charlie Bird Parker began playing professionally in his early teens, became a heroin addict at 16, changed the course of music, and then died when only 34 years old. His friend Robert Reisner observed, Parker, in the brief span of his life, crowded more living into it than any other human being. Like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, he was a transitional composer and improviser who ushered in a new era of jazz by pioneering bebop and influenced subsequent generations of musicians. Â Meticulously researched and written, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker tells the story of his life, music, and career. This new biography artfully weaves together firsthand accounts from those who knew him with new information about his life and career to create a compelling narrative portrait of a tragic genius. While other books about Parker have focused primarily on his music and recordings, this portrait reveals the troubled man behind the music, illustrating how his addictions and struggles with mental health affected his life and career. He was alternatively generous and miserly; a loving husband and father at home but an incorrigible philanderer on the road; and a chronic addict who lectured younger musicians about the dangers of drugs. Above all he was a musician, who overcame humiliation, disappointment, and a life-threatening car wreck to take wing as Bird, a brilliant improviser and composer. With in-depth research into previously overlooked sources and illustrated with several never-before-seen images, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker corrects much of the misinformation and myth about one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09517-7
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    A clap of thunder heralded the passing of Charlie “Bird” Parker. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who gave Charlie refuge and comfort during his final days in her suite at the Hotel Stanhope on Fifth Avenue, recalled, “At the moment of his going, there was a tremendous clap of thunder. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’ve thought about it often since; how strange it was.” One musician speculated that Charlie disintegrated into “pure sound.”

    Charlie Parker had lived life to its fullest. Robert Reisner, a friend of Charlie’s and author of Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker,...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Kansas City Blues
    (pp. 5-22)

    Charlie “Bird” Parker grew up in Kansas City, a community divided against itself by the Kansas-Missouri state line. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Charlie came of age musically while hanging around the alleyways behind the nightclubs that lined Twelfth Street in Kansas City, Missouri. The two Kansas Cities were, culturally and politically, worlds apart. Kansas City, Kansas, established by the Wyandotte Indians, faced its larger counterpart Kansas City, Missouri, across the Kaw Valley at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. Bassist Gene Ramey summed up the difference between the two Kansas Cities during the 1920s and 1930s. “Kansas...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Buster’s Tune
    (pp. 23-38)

    The Ozark Mountains cover fifty thousand square miles of southern Missouri, northern Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. Caves and cold springs riddle the hollows of the rocky hills, thickly forested by hawthorn, oak, hickory, maple, and basswood trees. Rugged individuals of Scots-Irish descent settled the isolated area during the early nineteenth century. Extended families scratched out a living on remote farms, raising livestock and cultivating fruit and pecan orchards. They rounded out their food supply by hunting, fishing, and foraging for wild berries and meaty morel mushrooms. Referred to as “hillbillies” by their city cousins, they kept to themselves and cast...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Hootie Blues
    (pp. 39-58)

    Arriving in Chicago early the next morning after his abrupt departure from home and family in Kansas City, Charlie headed straight for a jam session at the 65 Club, hoping to hustle up a few gigs and a place to stay. He worked his way through the crowd, borrowed a saxophone, stepped up to the microphone, and stopped the show with his quicksilver execution and ideas. Vocalist Billy Eckstine, saxophonist Budd Johnson, and other musicians gathered at the bar took note of the brilliant young stranger. Eckstine recounted how Charlie dazzled the crowd that morning:

    The vogue then was to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Bebop
    (pp. 59-84)

    A few months after Charlie joined the Earl Hines band, Jay McShann ran into Hines at a jam session on Fifty-Second Street. Hines begged McShann to take Charlie back. McShann chuckled, “He [Hines] threw up his hands when he saw me and said, ‘That’s the worst man I ever met in my life! He owes everybody money. Come get him!’ Earl had bought Bird a saxophone worth four to five hundred dollars, and Bird really had him crying the blues!”¹ Charlie had already pawned the new horn.

    During his long career, stretching back before the dawn of jazz, Hines had...

  9. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER 5 Relaxing at Camarillo
    (pp. 85-104)

    On the way from New York to Los Angeles, the band stopped off in Chicago to switch to the Super Chief, a sleek express train that made the trip from Chicago to Los Angeles in less than forty hours. During the ten-hour layover, band members stopped by a jam session at a club on the South Side. Despite Gillespie’s best efforts to get Charlie and other band members back to the train station on time, they lingered too long at the session and missed the Chief, which made the trip to Los Angeles only once a week. Having missed their...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Dewey Square
    (pp. 105-130)

    When Charlie and Doris returned to New York City on Easter Monday, April 7, 1947, they moved into the Dewey Square Hotel at 201 and 203 West 117th Street. One of the largest hotels in Harlem, the Dewey Square Hotel featured 250 luxurious rooms. That evening friends and fans threw a welcome home party for Charlie at Small’s Paradise. The next night Charlie stopped by the Savoy Ballroom and sat in with the Dizzy Gillespie big band. After the show, Charlie asked Gillespie if he could work with the big band while he assembled a quintet for the Three Deuces....

  12. CHAPTER 7 Parker’s Mood
    (pp. 131-164)

    The year 1951 began with great promise for Charlie—professionally and personally. Billy Shaw lined up a series of engagements with the string group stretching through the spring, and Chan was pregnant with their first child. “Bird was joyous,” Chan recalled. “My having his baby assured him of my love. Before Pree was born we moved to a large apartment on Avenue B. For the first time in his life Bird had a stable family life. He played his role as husband and father to the hilt. He adored Kim and took his paternal duties seriously.”¹ The three-story Gothic revival...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 165-178)
  14. Sources
    (pp. 179-182)
  15. Index
    (pp. 183-188)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-200)