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Celebrating Bird

The Triumph of Charlie Parker

Gary Giddins

Publication Year: 2013

Within days of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s death at the age of thirty-four, a scrawled legend began appearing on walls around New York City: Bird Lives. Gone was one of the most outstanding jazz musicians of any era, the troubled genius who brought modernism to jazz and became a defining cultural force for musicians, writers, and artists of every stripe. Arguably the most significant musician in the country at the time of his death, Parker set the standard many musicians strove to reach—though he never enjoyed the same popular success that greeted many of his imitators. Today, the power of Parker’s inventions resonates undiminished; and his influence continues to expand.

Celebrating Bird is the groundbreaking and award-winning account of the life and legend of Charlie Parker from renowned biographer and critic Gary Giddins, whom Esquire called “the best jazz writer in America today.” Richly illustrated and drawing primarily from original sources, Giddins overturns many of the myths that have grown up around Parker. He cuts a fascinating portrait of the period, from Parker’s apprentice days in the 1930s in his hometown of Kansas City to the often difficult years playing clubs in New York and Los Angeles, and reveals how Parker came to embody not only musical innovation and brilliance but the rage and exhilaration of an entire generation.

Fully revised and with a new introduction by the author, Celebrating Bird is a classic of jazz writing that the Village Voice heralded as “a celebration of the highest order”—a portrayal of a jazz virtuoso whose gargantuan talent was haunted by his excesses and a view into the ravishing art of one of jazz’s most commanding and remarkable figures.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-9


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pp. ix-11

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Prelude to the Revised Edition

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pp. xi-xv

charli e parker, who died at thirty-four in 1955, was an artist deeply embedded in jazz history, legendary yet omnipresent—a spring of anecdotal veneration—when Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker was first published in 1987. More than a quarter century later, he seems curiously less remote...

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1. Bird Lives!

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pp. 1-18

Mythologies die hard. The witness to Charlie Parker’s death heard a clap of thunder at the moment of his passing. The companion of his last years remains in spiritual contact with him after more than thirty years. His childhood...

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2. Youth

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pp. 19-54

Charles Parker Jr. was born August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas, during a bitterly contested presidential election. In previous weeks, Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio had emerged as the compromise candidate for the Republicans,...

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3. Apprenticeship

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pp. 55-86

When Charlie landed in Chicago, most likely in the fall of 1938, before the bitter winds—the Chicago hawk—hit, he was as thin as the rails that brought him and not much better for wear. Bedraggled and exhausted, he nonetheless made...

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4. Mastery

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pp. 87-110

The second world war severely altered the texture and tempo of American life, and jazz reflected those changes more acutely and thoroughly than the other arts, with the arguable exception of painting. Popular music gave way to canned...

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5. Bird Lives

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pp. 111-145

The restored, revitalized Charlie Parker of 1947 is the illustrious Bird, the fabled Bird of a thousand acquaintances, numberless funny and harrowing anecdotes, and a profusion of masterpieces. The period of his ascension dates from his...

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pp. 147-150

Celebrating Bird first appeared in 1987 in an oversized format as part of a book and documentary film series produced by Toby Byron/Multiprises. At that time, we were locked into 128 pages and a strict deadline that resulted in a few excisions of content...

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A Selected Discography

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pp. 151-169

The discography in the original edition of Celebrating Bird consisted entirely of long-playing vinyl albums and has little value today as a guide, though the general observations and breakdown still hold true. It is reprinted here as the catalog of music...

A Selected Bibliography

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pp. 171-175

Photography Credits

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pp. 177-179


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pp. 181-195

E-ISBN-13: 9781452940786
E-ISBN-10: 1452940789
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816690411

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013