One and only Bird, Charlie Parker, was born on August 29, 1920, in Kansas. One of the most famous and important alto saxophone player and jazz musician, Bird, was one of the pioneers of a new style called “bebop” which his fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and advanced harmonies.
Starting to play the saxophone at the age of 11, he spent three to four years practicing up to 15 hours a day. In the spring of 1936, he played at a jam session at the Reno Club. However, when he lost track of the chord changes, his improvisation failed poorly which caused the drummer to throw him the cymbal. This story which many of us now from “Whiplash” caused Parker only to practice harder.
He started his career as a musician in Kansas but shortly after he started to travel. An accident occurred in one of his travels that Parker broke three ribs and fractured his spine which led him to painkillers, opioids, and heroin which turned into an addiction. He later went to New York to pursue his career in music. He met with Dizzie Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and many others.
It is not wrong to say bebop was Bird’s creation. Playing over “Cherokee,” Parker realized that 12 semitones of the chromatic scale can lead melodically to any key which was a groundbreaking idea at the time. Even though it didn’t get enough radio time at the start, bebop and its legacy still dominate the music scene. Jazz historian Martin Williams said: “If Charlie Parker wanted to invoke plagiarism laws; he could sue almost everybody who’s made a record in the last ten years.”
His death was extremely tragic. Parker’s history with drugs caused undeniable damage to his liver. Even though he was only 34 when he died, the coroner who performed his autopsy estimated it was a body of a man between 50 and 60 years old.
He is now 100 years old. Even though he left us just at 34, his impact on jazz changed the scene forever, caused many artists to follow his steps.