Alto saxophonist and bebop pioneer
Charlie Parker, New York City, c. 1949.
Courtesy of Herman Leonard Photography, LLC.
Born August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, KS
Died March 12, 1955, in New York City
“The first time I heard Bird play,” John Coltrane remembered, “it hit me right between the eyes.” Coltrane was not alone. Charlie Parker was the most influential improviser in jazz after Louis Armstrong; every musician who has attempted to play jazz since Parker’s death has had to deal with the impact of his furious inventive genius.
Steeped in the blues that were everywhere in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and inspired by heroes like Lester Young, Parker was first heard in big bands led by Jay McShann and Earl Hines. In 1945, he and Dizzy Gillespie formed the quintet that ushered in the bebop era. Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and others had been experimenting with new ways of working with melody and harmony. Parker had been doing that, too, but he also brought with him a new way of phrasing. “He had just what we needed,” Gillespie remembered. “He had the line and he had the rhythm. We heard him and knew the music had to go his way.”
It did go his way. He was able to play only nine more years of it himself before his private demons killed him at 34. But the legacy of astonishing improvisation he left behind altered the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms – the whole language – of jazz.
Learn More: www.cmgww.com/music/parker
Listen to More Music at PBS: www.pbs.org/jazz/biography/artist_id_parker_charlie.htm