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Charlie Parker

Charlie Bird Parker

Alto Saxophonist, Composer

(1920 - 1955)

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Charlie Parker, during his short life, was instrumental in shaping the future of jazz to an extent that no one had since Louis Armstrong. Although steeped in the jazz tradition, blues, and popular music of his time, he heard things differently and was able to bring this music to life because of his extraordinary technical facility and his brilliance as an improviser.

Parker grew up in the rich jazz environs of Kansas City and left school at 14 to spend his time listening to and hanging out with the great players. By 1938 he was playing with Jay McShann. Stints with Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine and gigs at Minton’s Playhouse in New York put him in touch with other progressive players--Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, and, most importantly, Dizzy Gillespie who was instrumental in developing the new music with him.

Bebop, as the music came to be known, was marked by extended harmonic patterns, rhythmic variety, and virtuosic playing. While it influenced players of all instruments, it also turned away a lot of listeners because of its seemingly dissonant nature. The music was not suitable to big bands, its aggressiveness discouraged softer instruments such as clarinet, and the frantic tempos defied dancers. So bebop became a “listener’s” music.

Parker went to the West Coast in 1947 where he recorded his original music with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter, and Max Roach. Despite a six-month stay at Camarillo State Hospital after a breakdown caused by his dual addictions to heroin and alcohol, the period from 1947-1951 was his most fertile one.

Many of his compositions are based on the chord changes of popular songs (“Anthropology” on “I Got Rhythm,” “Ornithology” on “How High the Moon,” and “Koko” on “Cherokee”) or on blues patterns (“Now’s the Time” and “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”). His focus on chords tended toward less lyrical music, although he did write words for “Yardbird Suite.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Boss Bird

Charlie Parker

Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945

Dizzy Gillespie;Charlie Parker


Charlie Parker

Yardbird Suite

Charlie Parker
Reading and Viewing

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Gary Giddins

Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker

Da Capo Press

Ross Russell

Bird Lives!: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker

Da Capo Press

Robert George Reisner

Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker (Da Capo Paperback)

Da Capo Press

C Raschka

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop



DownBeat - The Great Jazz Interviews (A 75th Anniversary Anthology) (Book)

Hal Leonard


Down Beat: Sixty Years of Jazz

Hal Leonard Corporation

Wynton Marsalis, Geoffrey Ward

Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life

Random House Trade Paperbacks

Geoffrey C. Ward, Ken Burns

Jazz: A History of America's Music


Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker, Samuel E. Wright, Keith David


Warner Home Video


Charlie Parker

Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker

Geneon [Pioneer]


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