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The Life and Music of Charlie Parker

Chuck Haddix

Publication Year: 2013

Saxophone virtuoso Charlie Bird Parker began playing professionally in his early teens, became a heroin addict at 16, changed the course of music, and then died when only 34 years old. His friend Robert Reisner observed, Parker, in the brief span of his life, crowded more living into it than any other human being. Like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, he was a transitional composer and improviser who ushered in a new era of jazz by pioneering bebop and influenced subsequent generations of musicians.   Meticulously researched and written, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker tells the story of his life, music, and career. This new biography artfully weaves together firsthand accounts from those who knew him with new information about his life and career to create a compelling narrative portrait of a tragic genius. While other books about Parker have focused primarily on his music and recordings, this portrait reveals the troubled man behind the music, illustrating how his addictions and struggles with mental health affected his life and career. He was alternatively generous and miserly; a loving husband and father at home but an incorrigible philanderer on the road; and a chronic addict who lectured younger musicians about the dangers of drugs. Above all he was a musician, who overcame humiliation, disappointment, and a life-threatening car wreck to take wing as Bird, a brilliant improviser and composer. With in-depth research into previously overlooked sources and illustrated with several never-before-seen images, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker corrects much of the misinformation and myth about one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Music in American Life

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. ix-ix

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p. xi-xi

I would like to thank a number of individuals and institutions: above all, Richard Wentworth, Willis G. Reiger, and the staff at the University of Illinois Press for their outstanding stewardship of this biography. Kudos to Teddy Dibble for introducing me to Bird’s music, for his friendship and his help with this manuscript. Thanks to Norman Saks and Carl Woideck, who gave so much to ...

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pp. 1-3

A clap of thunder heralded the passing of Charlie “Bird” Parker. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who gave Charlie refuge and comfort during his final days in her suite at the Hotel Stanhope on Fifth Avenue, recalled, “At the moment of his going, there was a tremendous clap of thunder. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’ve thought about it often since; how strange it ...

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1. Kansas City Blues

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pp. 5-22

Charlie “Bird” Parker grew up in Kansas City, a community divided against itself by the Kansas-Missouri state line. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Charlie came of age musically while hanging around the alleyways behind the nightclubs that lined Twelfth Street in Kansas City, Missouri. The two Kansas Cities were, culturally and politically, worlds apart. Kansas City, ...

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2. Buster’s Tune

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pp. 23-37

The Ozark Mountains cover fifty thousand square miles of southern Missouri, northern Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. Caves and cold springs riddle the hollows of the rocky hills, thickly forested by hawthorn, oak, hickory, maple, and basswood trees. Rugged individuals of Scots-Irish descent settled the isolated area during the early nineteenth century. Extended ...

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3. Hootie Blues

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pp. 39-58

Arriving in Chicago early the next morning after his abrupt departure from home and family in Kansas City, Charlie headed straight for a jam session at the 65 Club, hoping to hustle up a few gigs and a place to stay. He worked his way through the crowd, borrowed a saxophone, stepped up to the microphone, and stopped the show with his quicksilver execution and ...

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4. Bebop [Includes Image Plates A-J]

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pp. 59-84

A few months after Charlie joined the Earl Hines band, Jay McShann ran into Hines at a jam session on Fifty-Second Street. Hines begged Mc- Shann to take Charlie back. McShann chuckled, “He [Hines] threw up his hands when he saw me and said, ‘That’s the worst man I ever met in my life! He owes everybody money. Come get him!’ Earl had bought Bird a saxophone ...

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5. Relaxing at Camarillo

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pp. 85-104

On the way from New York to Los Angeles, the band stopped off in Chicago to switch to the Super Chief, a sleek express train that made the trip from Chicago to Los Angeles in less than forty hours. During the ten-hour layover, band members stopped by a jam session at a club on the South Side. Despite Gillespie’s best efforts to get Charlie and other band members back ...

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6. Dewey Square

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pp. 105-130

When Charlie and Doris returned to New York City on Easter Monday, April 7, 1947, they moved into the Dewey Square Hotel at 201 and 203 West 117th Street. One of the largest hotels in Harlem, the Dewey Square Hotel featured 250 luxurious rooms. That evening friends and fans threw a welcome home party for Charlie at Small’s Paradise. The next night Charlie ...

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7. Parker’s Mood

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pp. 131-163

The year 1951 began with great promise for Charlie—professionally and personally. Billy Shaw lined up a series of engagements with the string group stretching through the spring, and Chan was pregnant with their first child. “Bird was joyous,” Chan recalled. “My having his baby assured him of my love. Before Pree was born we moved to a large apartment on Avenue ...


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pp. 165-178

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pp. 179-181

...i drew from a wide variety of secondary and primary sources in telling Charlie Parker’s story. The pioneering research and musical analysis of numerous individuals who have previously researched and written about Charlie Parker, particularly Robert Reisner, Ross Russell, Carl Woideck, Gary Giddins, Brian Priestly, Lawrence O. Koch, Ken Vail, and Chan Parker Llew Walker, a leading Parker scholar and host of the website Bird Lives ...


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pp. 183-188

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095177
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037917

Page Count: 190
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Music in American Life