Charlie “Bird,” Parker
The Man, The Myth, The Legend,
Charles parker was a brilliant jazz musician. He was so innovative and played with such genius that he has influenced all jazz musicians regardless of their time period. One can only speculate what might have happened with Jazz if Charles' life was not cut short due to intense drug use as was so common in the musician scene. Then again one can only speculate weather or not Charles' Jazz would have been as great as it was if it were not for the drugs that he consumed on a daily basis. Did the drugs make Charles' Jazz what it was or did the man have the built in ability to squeeze the perfect notes out of a saxophone making it do his will without hardly having to give it a thought.
On August the 29th in the year of 1920 a baby was born to a family in Kansas City, Kansas. The child's name was Charles Parker Jr. He was the newborn son of Adelaide (“Addie”) Bailey Parker, who was African-American-Choctaw, and Charles Parker, Sr., an African-American. His mother migrated to Kansas City from Oklahoma where she met Charles Parker Sr. Charles Sr. had been in Mississippi and Tennessee and had come to Kansas to pursue a career as an entertainer. Charles Sr. and Addie separated leaving Charles without a father figure. Charles Sr. never realized his dream of becoming an entertainer and is reported to have been working on a train as a waiter or chef when he died.
At the age of 15 Charles began to show a great interest in music. He joined the school band where he was given an alto horn but soon switched to the baritone horn and soon developed a love for the alto saxophone. His mother had more idealized views of Charles' academics then those that are given by the school and friends. A Fellow Student, Lawrence Keyes was quoted as saying, “If he had been as conscientious about his school work as he was his music, he would have become a professor, but he was a terrible truant . . . he was doomed to be a perpetual freshman.” ( qtd. In Charlie Parker, His Music and Life 4 ). “The result of this initial burst of curiosity was that Charlie began pestering his mother to buy him an instrument of his own.” (Priestley 12)His mother purchased a used saxophone from the local pawn shop for forty-five dollars and had it overhauled.
Charles soon lost interest in the horn and loaned it to a friend. His friend had his saxophone for around two years before he decided to get it back. During this time Charles frequented Kansas Cities bars and clubs taking advantage of the jazz scene and soaking in the artist's styles and sounds “There are many references in available literature stating how Charlie would sit in with any band or group of musicians, wherever and whenever there was an opportunity.” (birdlives.co.uk). Most of the time he would have to hang around outside of the clubs because he couldn't get in. Doing this exposed him to a vast array of professional musicians, some of which would influence him later in his career. It was probably during this time that he became exposed to marijuana, and pills. He has been quoted when talking about his introduction to drugs saying “ It all came from being introduced too early to night life. . . . When you're not mature enough to know what's happening—well, you goof.” (qtd. in Charlie Parker, His Music and Life 7) He talked about his his introduction to heroin to a bassist by the name of William “Buddy” Jones. He told him that at the age of fifteen he got high from heroin for the first time. Buddy retells the event, “Getting high for the first time at fifteen, Bird told me what he felt. He pulled out $1.30, which was worth more in those days and he said, 'Do you mean there's something like this in the world? How much of it will this buy?' “ (qtd. in Charlie Parker, His Music and Life 8) From the age of thirteen drugs play more and more of a role in Charles' daily life.
Charles began to play with a band called the Deans of Swing and...
Cited: Reisner, Robert George. Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker. A Da Capo Paperback, 1975.
Priestle, Brian. Chasin the Bird. Oxford University Press, Inc. 2005
“They can get it out of your blood, but they can 't get it out of your mind – Charlie Parker”
2005. Bird Lives. 20 June. 2006 .
“About Charlie “Yardbird” Parker” 2006. The Official Site of Charlie Parker 20 June. 2006
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