CHARLIE PARKER

Kansas City-born altoist Parker was the single most important creative impetus behind the postwar reinvigoration of jazz most commonly known as "bop". By all accounts a creative genius, Parker gave the impression of being the ultimate romantic notion of such a figure, tossing off astounding improvisations while living the most dissolute lifestyle imaginable. Parker was an only child and doted on by his mother. He began playing alto sax at the age of 11, within two years playing baritone sax in the high school band, but he dropped out of school at 14 and began looking for musical employment in Kansas City, catching Lester Young, Buster Smith, Herschel Evans, and others, in the clubs and bars of KC. After initial derision from the older jazz community, Parker worked steadily with a string of leaders, Smith included, and honed his techniques; he also picked up a heroin habit before the end of the decade. At the start of 1940s Parker joined the band of Jay McShann, a group modeled closely on the Basie style and for whom Parker had briefly worked in 1938, before spending a year on his own in New York and Chicago. Despite his increasingly willful and unreliable behavior, the altoist became one of the stars of this traveling band. He cut his first sides with McShann in 1941, taking a solo on "Hootie's Blues" which alerted discerning musicians across the United States to his potential.

Charlie Parker

Parker, by now also known as "Yardbird", "Bird", or "Chan", left McShann in 1942 and settled in New York, working with a variety of big bands, including those of Noble Sissle and Earl Hines (where he played with his new friend Dizzy Gillespie for a couple of months) and also took part in the continuing jam sessions uptown at Monroe's and Minton's. In 1944 he joined the newly formed Billy Eckstine band, but by 1945 he and Gillespie were both leading bands on 52nd Street, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Parker
recorded his first session as a leader in November 1945: this Savoy Records date included future classics such as "Billie's Bounce", "Now's The Time", and "Ko-Ko".
On the West Coast in 1946-47 he made a string of classic recordings for the Dial label and number of appearances on the early JATP concert stages in LA, but also had a complete breakdown which landed him in Camarillo Hospital for six months. Back in New York later in 1947, he led a quintet featuring Max Roach, Duke Jordan, and Tommy Potter, broadcasting regularly from the Royal Roost in the late 1940s with a succession of men in the trumpet role, including Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham and Red Rodney. Fats Navarro also appeared on occasion.
By 1949 a European tour which took him through Scandinavia and to the Paris Jazz Festival that year, where he met Sidney Bechet. Parker's innovations and style had by now become ubiquitous among younger jazz players; his playing style influenced not just players of his own instrument, but all jazz musicians of his generation, creating endless Parker clones in the late 1940s and 1950s.
In the 1950s Parker attempted to make regular tours and recordings with a string section, but many of the arrangements he used were pedestrian. Parker's chaotic lifestyle and lack of discipline was often to blame.

Charlie Parker

As the 1950s moved on Parker suffered marriage failures, domestic tragedies (one of his daughters died), and further arrests for narcotics usage. His creative wellsprings became increasingly narrowly focused. Parker died of liver complications in the apartment of his friend, Baroness Nica de Koenigswater, in March 1955.