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Charlie Parker

alto saxophone


Charlie Parker is Bebop personified. He was at the centre of a group of New York based musicians in the early and mid 40s which included Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Max Roach, Bud Powell, John Lewis, Fats Navarro and Kenny Clarke, who invented and established a new and revolutionary direction in Jazz. Parker's influence on his contemporaries was overwhelming and can be heard in Jazz musicians even until this day. Despite his early death, there is a wealth of recorded material to testify that he must be considered the true genius of modern Jazz. Nicknamed 'Bird' or 'Yardbird', Charlie Parker was one of the most significant and widely imitated improvisers in jazz history. He was one of the main contributors to the development of bebop in the 1940s, having grown up in Kansas City, and begun playing professionally as a teenager. His far-reaching developments to saxophone playing did not begin to occur until after he had been playing for some years, and spent part of 1939 in New York. On his return to the Midwest, after much practice, he joined Jay McShann's orchestra, and his first discs with that band, made in 1941, show the beginnings of his mature style. He created long, loping lines of melody, stringing together many short themes or motifs, and using notes that related to the higher intervals of the underlying chords. He came to New York with McShann, and soon became renowned around the city for his improvising, especially on the blues. Bird was a creative genius, who could find more complicated shapes of improvisation in a 12-bar blues than any other musician. He remained in the city, sitting in at after hours clubs, and gaining a reputation as a formidable jam-session player. Then he joined Earl Hines's band in the spring of 1943, in which he played alongside Dizzy Gillespie, and they worked together again the following year in Billy Eckstine's band. As a part of this pioneering band he found the perfect environment to explore and invent, and push the boundaries of phrasing, improvisation and tempo further out. In 1945, Parker and Gillespie worked together in a small group in New York which is generally regarded as the first and trend-setting bebop band. After Gillespie quit the band Parkers Quintet included such trumpet legends as Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and the young white trumpeter Red Rodney. In the meantime he established himself as a soloist, appearing on Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts, on tour with Stan Kenton, and also fronting a string orchestra in some highly commercially successful discs and gigs called 'Bird With Strings'. However, from the late 1940s onwards, Parker was always fighting a battle with his inner demons and the pull of drugs and alcohol. He mixed moments of pure genius with unreliability, and when he died at just 34, the doctor signing his death certificate assumed he was almost twice that age, from his fast-lane lifestyle. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on through the enormous influence he exerted on the majority of saxophonists in the second half of the 20th century.
Recommended recordings
Yardbird Suite Rhino 72260
Bird & Diz  Verve 831-133 The Charlie Parker Story
Complete Charlie Parker on Verve  Verve 837-141 The Complete Verve Master Takes
Jazz at Masey Hall OJC 044-2
The Complete Dial sessions Stash 567-570 The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes
Bird at St Nick's  OJC 041-2
The Charlie Parker Story Savoy Jazz 105 The Charlie Parker Story