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Charlie Parker (1920 - 1955)

Lifespan: 1920 - 1955

Related: black music - bebop - Beat Generation - hipster - jazz


Charles Parker, Jr (August 29, 1920 - March 12, 1955) was a jazz saxophonist and composer. Early in his career Parker was dubbed Yardbird; this was later shortened to Bird and remained Parker's nickname for the rest of his life.

Parker is commonly considered one of the greatest jazz musicians, ranked alongside Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and a handfull of others in terms of influence and impact. Parker is widely ranked as one of the best saxophonists; critic Scott Yanow speaks for many jazz fans and musicians when he suggests that "Parker was arguably the greatest saxophonist of all time."

A founding figure of bebop, Parker's innovative approach to melody, rhythm and harmony have exerted an incalculable influence on jazz. Several of Parker's songs have become standards of the repertoire, and many musicians have studied Parker's music and absorbed elements of his style.

Parker became an icon for the Beat generation, and was a pivotal figure in the evolving conception of the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual, rather than just a popular entertainer. At various times, Parker fused jazz with other musical styles, from classical (seeking to study with Edgard Varese and Stefan Wolpe) to Latin music (recordings with Machito), blazing paths followed later by others. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Parker [May 2005]

Parker was also a notorious drug addict. As a teenager, he developed a morphine addiction while in hospital after an automobile accident, and subsequently became addicted to heroin, which was to plague him throughout his life and ultimately kill him. Parker's addiction unfortunately created the impression (at least to some) that his musical genius was somehow related to his drug use. For about a decade following Parker's death, jazz was closely associated with narcotics, and many musicians began using drugs, partly in imitation of their musical idol.

Although he produced some valuable recordings during this period, Parker's behavior became increasingly erratic. Heroin was difficult to obtain after his dealer was arrested, and Parker began to drink heavily to compensate for this. A recording of "Lover Man" for the Dial label from July 29, 1946 provides evidence of his condition. Reportedly, Parker could barely stand during the session and had to be physically supported by others in order to keep him positioned properly against the microphone. The record, though barely competent and maybe the worst of his career, illustrates how the man's genius tried desperately to come out through his agony. Parker never forgave his producer for releasing the sub-par record (and re-recorded the tune in 1953 for Verve, this time in stellar form), but it remains an invaluable testimony to a part of his career.

A few days after the "Lover Man" session, Parker was drinking in his hotel room when 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 Hospital, where he remained for six months.

Coming out of the hospital, Parker was clean and healthy, and proceeded to do some of the best playing and recording of his career. He returned to New York and recorded dozens of sides for the Dial and Savoy labels (including "Relaxin' at Camarillo," in reference to his hospital stay) that remain one of the high points of his recorded output.

Parker died while watching Tommy Dorsey on television in the suite at the Hotel Stanhope belonging to his friend and patroness Nica de Koenigswarter. Parker's heroin addiction ultimately caused his death at the age of 34, after a lifetime of abuse (though the official cause of death was a bleeding ulcer and pneumonia). The coroner mistakenly estimated Parker's age to be between 50 and 60.

Parker left a widow, Chan. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Parker#Bebop [May 2005]

inspired by Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude (2000) - Dick Pountain, David Robins [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

see also: cool - jazz - heroin

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