Charlie Parker

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About Charlie Parker

Sax titan Charlie Parker, a.k.a. Bird, was one of the most wildly innovative figures in not only jazz but all of American musical history. With bold new ideas about the basic relationship between harmony, melody, and improvisation, he helped reinvent the basic building blocks of music itself in the ’40s, doing more than just about anybody else to establish jazz’s bebop movement in the process. Born in Kansas City, KS, in 1920 and raised in Kansas City, MO, he picked up the sax as a child and spent years practicing ceaselessly. Influenced by swing bandleaders like Count Basie, he began playing in touring regional “territory bands” in the late ’30s before relocating to New York City in 1939. By the early ’40s, Parker was rewriting the musical rulebook—alongside fellow pioneers like Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Max Roach—and blazing new trails with bebop. His sax firestorms represented a new musical language, eventually earning him international celebrity status through milestones like “Koko,” “Ornithology,” and “Yardbird Suite.” The 1949-’50 orchestrated recordings Charlie Parker With Strings even made Parker a kind of pop star. Sadly, he was bedeviled by heroin and alcohol addiction, which led to his death in 1955. Parker’s already considerable legend grew even larger posthumously (there was even a Clint Eastwood-directed biopic, Bird, in 1988), making him one of jazz’s most influential instrumentalists.

Kansas City, KS, United States
August 29, 1920
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