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Sun, 08.29.1920

Saxophonist Charlie (the Bird) Parker, developer of bebop

Charlie Parker

On this date in 1920, Charlie Parker was born. He was a Black alto saxophone player, a founder of the bebop jazz style, and one of the most influential musicians in the history of jazz.

Born Charles Parker, Jr., in Kansas City, Kansas, he acquired the nickname "Yardbird" (usually shortened to "Bird") as a young man. Largely self-taught, Parker had an ability to listen and a willingness to practice that enabled him to make rapid progress on the saxophone.  By 1935, he was playing professionally in local swing bands. In 1939, Parker visited New York City and was soon playing with other young American musicians, including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, and drummer Kenny Clarke. During the early 1940s, Parker, Gillespie, and a few other players gradually developed a complex style of jazz that became known as bebop. The early bebop recordings that he and Gillespie made seemed complicated and unintelligible to critics and listeners. Soon, however, these recordings came to be regarded as jazz classics.

After 1945, Parker usually led his own small jazz groups, which were typically comprised of a trumpeter, pianist, bassist, and drummer, in addition to himself on saxophone. Various American musicians performed in Parker’s combos over the years, including trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Bud Powell, and drummer Max Roach. Parker experienced many personal difficulties throughout his life. Often in debt and addicted to alcohol and drugs, he endured broken marriages, suicide attempts, and even imprisonment.  His death in 1954 at the age of 34 was the result of a number of ailments, including stomach ulcers, pneumonia, cirrhosis of the liver, and a heart attack.

Parker received several honors during his lifetime. He won several jazz polls in Down Beat magazine and was placed in its Hall of Fame in 1955. His mastery of bebop made him a role model for jazz players around the world. For decades musicians have copied his favorite melody patterns, his methods of playing those patterns, and even entire solos of his.

Reference:
Charlie Parker Omnibook
Transposed for B Flat Instruments
Charles Dumont & Son Inc
ISBN: 0769260527

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