Aug 28, 2020
August 29 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Charles Parker, Jr., best known to music fans as Charlie Parker, or simply "Bird." From his birth in Kansas City, Kansas to his untimely death at the age of 35, Parkerwas insgtrumental in re-creainge and establishing the music we call jazz. Regrettably, his early death from hard living and abusing drugs may also have perpetuated a stereotype of self-destructive black musicians.
In his topnotch blog JazzWax, writer Marc Myers recently addressed the Parker Centennial with five postings that try to illuminate how it was that Bird forever changed jazz. I recoommend you read them all, and listen to his muscial examples. Here are the highlights:
First and foremost was Parker's invention of "bebop" with his running mate, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Defined now as music "characterized by a fast tempo, complex chord progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure," bebop turned jazz from the big band sound of extensive charts to perform dance music and featured soloists, to music that required physical, musical and mental dexterity with which to improvise.
The core of bebop was Parker's inventive use of high speed improvisation using the chord changes of songbook standards. Most of the songs that became bebop standards were new songs written over the chord changes of older jazz tunes or Braodway standards. "Groovin' High" was based on an old Paul Whiteman song; "Dexterity," "Moose the Mooch," and "Steeplechase" come from Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm."
Parker also turned the blues from something considered crude in execution and structure to music that was a seductive, lyrical form. He also became perhaps the first to united jazz and pop songs with a series of pioneering albums backed with strings.
Most interestingly was Myers view that Parker inadvertently helped launch the American Civil Rights movement among jazz musicians.: "By inventing bebop, which relied on sophisticated improvisational skills, Parker created a Black idiom that placed a focus on exceptional Black artists and their talent... As a result, a distinct sense of pride flowered among Black modern jazz artists in the late 1940s and early '50, and many became emboldened to demand equal rights and justice."
Podcast 762 is a selection of some of my - and hopefully your - favorite Parker tunes. I've intentionally added a few live tracks to show the length and breadth of Parker's soloing, which as awesome as it was, is often cut short by the recordings of the day. Musical selections are all attributed to Charlie Parker except where indicated, and include:
"Tico Tico" - Charlie Parker & Machito
"Relaxin' at Camarillo"
"Groovin' High" - Barry Ulanov And His All Star Metronome Jazzmen
"Confirmation (Take 3)"
"Blues for Norman" - Jazz at the Philharmonic - Al Killian, Howard McGhee, Charlie Parker, Willie Smith, Lester Young, Arnold Ross, Billy Hadnott, Lee Young
"A Night in Tunisia" - The Quintet - Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, Max Roach