Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

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Birthday: Aug 29, 1920

Birthplace: Kansas City, Missouri, USA

A masterful player and a founder of bebop, sax great Charlie Parker, known as Yardbird or Bird, remains a towering figure in jazz decades after his death. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, he moved to the sister city in Missouri to begin his schooling and musical training. Devoting himself to practicing and sitting in at jam sessions, he honed his technique and eventually landed a gig with pianist Jay McShann's band. He moved to New York in 1939 and was hired three years later by pianist Earl Hines. This band included trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who would become an important collaborator. During a musicians' strike in 1942-43, Parker played unrecorded sessions with Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk and guitarist Charlie Christian, all of whom would change the face of jazz over the next decade. The genesis of bebop occurred in this period; Parker later explained that he was jamming on the song "Cherokee" with guitarist Biddy Fleet when he came up with an innovative technique, realizing that the 12 semitones of the chromatic scale could lead him virtually anywhere. Parker's style was actually developed during this and other sessions around this time, including a brief stint in Billy Eckstine's orchestra and a recording with Tiny Grimes' band in 1944. But his collaboration with Dizzy Gillespie would prove most influential, as the two players were equally matched in dazzling technique and exploratory spirit. They recorded together in 1945 and launched a six-week nightclub tour later that year; many pieces from their repertoire (including "Salt Peanuts," "Now's the Time," and "Shaw Nuff") became jazz standards. However the tour ended badly for Parker, who was now addicted to heroin and wound up residing for six months in the Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California. Parker would nonetheless go on to some of his career peaks. Two of his best-known pieces, "Yardbird Suite" and "Ornithology," appeared in 1946; the latter showed his technique of borrowing from a pre-existing song (in this case, "How High the Moon") and spinning complex variations. The following year he assembled the seminal quintet including Max Roach and Miles Davis. The iconic jazz club Birdland opened at 1678 Broadway in 1949; though the club was named for Parker and became synonymous with him, he was not an owner and only played there infrequently. He did however play Carnegie Hall at the end of that year; on a bill (with Roach, Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz) that was considered one of the highwater marks of bebop. 1950 brought the album April in Paris: Charlie Parker With Strings which teamed him with chamber orchestra players. This fusion with classical, later known as Third Stream, was also a fresh concept for jazz. The final peak of Parker's career was arguably the concert at Massey Hall, Toronto on May 15, 1953; with Gillespie, Roach, Bud Powell and Charles Mingus. This was also the last time he and Gillespie played together, and Parker played a number of new saxophones including a plastic model. His health however was failing due to addictions, and his performances became erratic over the next year. He died at age 34 in March 1955.

Filmography

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Credit
No Score Yet No Score Yet Paper Chasers Original Music - 2003

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