Charlie Parker  

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Charles "Bird" Parker, Jr. (August 29, 1920March 12, 1955) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer.


Parker's addiction to heroin, which began in his late teens, caused him to miss gigs and to be fired for being intoxicated. To satisfy his habit, he frequently resorted to busking on the streets for drug money, receiving loans from fellow musicians/admirers, pawning his own horn and borrowing other sax players' instruments as a result. Parker's situation was typical of the strong connection between drug abuse and jazz at the time.

Although he produced many brilliant recordings during this period, Parker's behavior became increasingly erratic due to his habit. Heroin was difficult to obtain after he moved to California for a short time where the drug was less abundant, and Parker began to drink heavily to compensate for this. A recording for the Dial label from July 29, 1946, provides evidence of his condition. Prior to this session, Parker drank about a quart of whiskey. According to the liner notes of Charlie Parker on Dial Volume 1, Parker missed most of the first two bars of his first chorus on the track, "Max Making Wax." When he finally did come in, he swayed wildly and once spun all the way around, going badly off mic. On the next tune, "Lover Man", producer Ross Russell physically supported Parker in front of the microphone. On "Bebop" (the final track Parker recorded that evening) he begins a solo with a solid first eight bars. On his second eight bars, however, Parker begins to struggle, and a desperate Howard McGhee, the trumpeter on this session, shouts, "Blow!" at Parker. McGhee's bellow is audible on the recording. Charles Mingus considered this version of "Lover Man" to be among Parker's greatest recordings despite its flaws. Nevertheless, Parker hated the recording and never forgave Ross Russell for releasing the sub-par performance (and re-recorded the tune in 1951 for Verve, this time in stellar form, but perhaps lacking some of the passionate emotion in the earlier, problematic attempt).

During the night following the "Lover Man" session, Parker was drinking in his hotel room. He entered the hotel lobby stark naked on several occasions and asked to use the phone, but was refused on each attempt. The hotel manager eventually locked him in his room. At some point during the night, he set fire to his mattress with a cigarette, then ran through the hotel lobby wearing only his socks. He was arrested and committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital, where he remained for six months.

Coming out of the hospital, Parker was initially clean and healthy, and proceeded to do some of the best playing and recording of his career. Before leaving California, he recorded "Relaxin' at Camarillo", in reference to his hospital stay. He returned to New York – and his addiction – and recorded dozens of sides for the Savoy and Dial labels that remain some of the high points of his recorded output. Many of these were with his so-called "classic quintet" including trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Max Roach.

Other tributes

  • The 1985 film Round Midnight included a character who was the daughter of the main character (Dexter Gordon) whose name was "Chan", and the end theme was titled "Chan's Song", written by Herbie Hancock. Chan was the name of Parker's common-law wife when he died.
  • In 1949, the New York night club Birdland was named in his honor. Three years later, George Shearing wrote "Lullaby of Birdland", named for both Parker and the nightclub.
  • A memorial to Parker was dedicated in 1999 in Kansas City at 17th Terrace and The Paseo, near the American Jazz Museum located at 18th and Vine, featuring a Template:Convert tall bronze head sculpted by Robert Graham.
  • The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is a free two-day music festival which takes place every summer on the last weekend of August in Manhattan, New York City at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem and Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side, sponsored by the non-profit organization City Parks Foundation. The festival marked its 17th anniversary in 2009.
  • Every August, the Tribes Gallery in New York's Lower East Side sponsors a Charlie Parker Festival that includes musical performances, art exhibits, poetry readings.
  • Every weekday morning, disc jockey Phil Schaap plays Parker's music on WKCR in New York. His show, called Birdflight, is devoted to Parker's music and has been running since 1981.
  • In one of his most famous short story collections, Las armas secretas (The Secret Weapons), Julio Cortázar dedicated "El perseguidor" ("The Pursuer") to the memory of Charlie Parker. This piece examines the last days of Johnny, a drug-addict saxophonist, through the eyes of Bruno, his biographer. Some qualify this story as one of Cortazar's masterpieces in the genre.
  • A biographical film called Bird, starring Forest Whitaker as Parker and directed by Clint Eastwood, was released in 1988.
  • In 1984, legendary modern dance choreographer Alvin Ailey created the piece For Bird – With Love in honor of Parker. The piece chronicles his life, from his early career to his failing health.
  • In 2005, the Selmer Paris saxophone manufacturer commissioned a special "Tribute to Bird" alto saxophone, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Charlie Parker (1955–2005). This saxophone will be built until 2010, each one featuring a unique engraving and an original design.
  • Parker's performances of "I Remember You" and "Parker's Mood" were selected by Harold Bloom for inclusion on his short list of the "twentieth-century American Sublime", the greatest works of American art produced in the 20th century.
  • Parker is referenced in Jack Kerouac's On the Road as being a major influence of the Bop movement; at the time, Kerouac's character watches a performance of Parker at a club in downtown Chicago.
  • The Oris Watch Company created a limited edition timepiece in Charlie Parker's name. The watch features the word "bird" at the 4 o'clock hour, in honor of Parker's nickname and signifying "Jazz, until 4 in the morning".
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat created many pieces to honour Charlie Parker, including Charles the First, CPRKR and Discography I.
  • In 1995, Live Bird, a one-man play about Charlie Parker, written and performed by actor/saxophonist Jeff Robinson, made its premier at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • A Far Side cartoon published on Parker's birthday in 1990 titled "Charlie Parker's private hell" shows him locked in a recording booth, screaming, while a whistling devil pipes in nothing but new age music.
  • Charley Parker, the real name of comic book character Golden Eagle, is a reference to Parker. Template:Citation needed
  • In an episode of Cowboy Bebop, Jet Black dreams that Parker tells him, "Only hands can wash hands. If you want to receive, you have to give."
  • In an episode of Metalocolypse William Murderface of the band Dethklok is heard to be singing his own tribute to Charlie Parker while drunk in a bar in the opening minutes of an episode. The lyrics included "Stand up U.S.A, stand up like Charlie Parker stood up, stand up Charlie Parker style..."
  • Owen Dodson wrote a poem whose title itself indicates the tribute. It is called "Yardbird's Skull".
  • On the Del Close recording How to Speak Hip, John Brent's character, Geets Romo, says it is "uncool to claim you used to run with Bird, or that you have Bird's ax, and you know, it's even less cool to ask, 'Who is Bird?'" This is also sampled in the 1994 Hans Dulfer song "Jazz Disaster (Cool)".
  • Parker plays at a night club in The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac. He appears in other works by Kerouac as well.
  • In episode 16 of The Mighty Boosh, Charlie Parker's rare "Yardbird" LP can be seen on one of the racks in the Nabootique.
  • The protagonist in John Connolly's series of crime novels is named Charlie Parker and even shares the nickname "Bird."
  • Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones, wrote a children's book entitled "Ode to a High Flying Bird" as a tribute to Parker. Watts has cited Parker as a major influence in his life as a young man learning to play jazz.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Charlie Parker" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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