Going To Kansas City
Charlie Parker was arguably the most influential saxophone
player in jazz history. He was born on August 29, 1920 and was fortunate enough to be raised in Kansas City at a time when the music scene was in full stride. He took up alto saxophone at age 11 and was soon sneaking out of his house at night and into the nightclubs and theaters to watch and learn from the jazz greats of the time. Parker claimed to have learn a lot about playing saxophone by watching the fingers of the great Lester Young move up and down on his saxophone keys.
The older jazz musicians would hang out in the alleys during breaks and soon took a liking to this young kid. They helped sneak him into the clubs. Because of his fondness for eating chicken they gave him the nickname Yardbird. This was later shortened to the name he was known the world over for, Bird. As a teenager Parker became a serious musician who practiced 12 to 15 hours per day. He was soon playing in local bands and joined Jay McShann's territory band 1938. This band embodied the Kansas City jump blues style and toured the southwest as well as Chicago and New York.
52 nd Street
Bird moved to New York City in 1939 to further pursue his music career. He soon joined the big band of Earl 'Fatha' Hines and met Dizzy Gillespie. Bird, Gillespie, and other musicians such as Theolonius Monk, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell and Charlie Christian were bored and fed up with the big bands who employed them and began hanging out at after hours jam sessions on 52nd Street in Harlem. These musicians soon developed a new style of jazz called Bebop. This new music was marked by fast tempos, sometimes intricate harmonic structure and the instrumental virtuosity of its players.
Now's The Time
By the mid 1940's Bird was leading his own groups and headlining recording sessions. During this period he recorded such Now's The Time, Yardbird Suite, Anthropology and Confirmation. Parker continued to record and perform through the early 50's even pursuing his interest in combining jazz and classical music by recording an album with strings, Bird With Strings, in 1949.
Haunted by a lifelong addiction to heroin and alcohol Charlie Parker died at The Stanhope Hotel in New York City on March 12, 1955. At the time he was staying in the suite of his friend and patron Nica de Koenigswarter who was known as the 'Baroness of Bebop' for hosting jazz jam sessions in her hotel suite.
Charlie Parkers impact on modern jazz cannot be overestimated. Countless prominent jazz musicians followed in his footsteps and pointed to bird as one of their main influences. In jazz studies programs at colleges and universities across the globe his music is the standard to which all else is measured.
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