Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. Born August 29th, 1920
in Kansas City
legend, master of speed, syncopation
and other improvisation
al gifts. First exposed to jazz
growing up in Missouri
. He played the baritone horn
for his school band at 13. By 15 he had his first gig
with his instrument, the alto saxophone
. At 16 Bird was involved in an auto accident, where he broke three ribs. It is generally accepted this is the point Bird picked up the life long habit of Heroin
, as the pain from the auto accident affected him for the rest of his life.
He played in local jazz and blues bands throughout the 30's, but in 1938 decided to expand and went to New York. New York heavily influenced Parker's style. He joined a band with pianist Jay McShann, touring throughout New York and Chicago. He became a regular player at a club on 55th Street. In 1939 Parker moved to New York to expand his knowledge of music, and got a job as a dish washer at Jimmy's Chicken Shack so he could hear and meet the greats who played there such as Art Tatum, and guitarist Biddy Fleet. Fleet taught Parker about instrumental harmony, and expanded Parker's musical vocabulary. Parker also met Lester Young, whose solos he memorized, and whose work greatly affected Bird.
Around this time Parker also began to play at Minton's Playhouse, where jam sessions with greats like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke culminated in what was to become bebop. Parker greatly enjoyed Gerswin's work such as I Got Rhythm Changes and Cherokee and would play these songs over and over different ways on his 12 tone scale.
By 1944 Parker was working with Gillespie and Monk on 67th Street, full thrust into the bebop scene. They 'wrote' songs down on scraps of paper just to give the band members a general idea of the music, then let it rip. A single piece of music was played differently every time, and one song became many.
In 1946 he travelled to Los Angeles with Dizzy. L.A. was a new place, and Bird only had one heroin dealer. When his dealer was busted he had no source for heroin and began heavily drinking. On this trip, Bird produced his worst piece of music ever, playing through the massive pain. He never forgave Ross Russell, the producer, for releasing the album with his terrible work. Later that week, Bird was drinking in his hotel room, became enraged, set fire to his bed, and left the building without any clothing. The LAPD arrested him and he was committed to a mental institution.
By 1947 Bird was released, and he and went back to New York. He began playing with Miles Davis and got back on heroin after being clean for nearly a year. By 1948 he was working with Norman Grants and began to experiment with strings, Afro-cuban music, and big band. He learned more about bitonality and integrated it into his work.
In 1952 he had a TV appearance with Dizzy, and had become 'the man' in the jazz world. He now had both a following and a presence. He got a bit of an ego, things got chaotic, and he attempted suicide. He later travelled to Europe on tour, still with a major following of Bird would-be's. Parker helped out these musicians whenever he could, but towards the end of his life felt guilty for even existing, as these musicians became heroin addicts too, in order to emulate their idol. Charlie Parker died in 1955, a few weeks after his last performance at Birdland.