Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Charlie Parker: Ornithology-The Study of the Bird

Saxophonist Charlie Parker is considered by many to be the best musician in the history of jazz. He is one of the few jazz musicians who could rival the technical brilliance and originality of Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum. Parker’s drug-addicted life and early demise is jazz legend and a tragic example which would be repeated by several jazz musicians who followed him.

Parker was nicknamed “Yardbird” which was eventually shortened to simply, “Bird.” Many of his compositions, including “Yardbrid Suite” and “Ornithology” would be inspired by that nickname.

Parker was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1920. He began to play the saxophone at age 11, and had joined a musician’s union instead of attending high school. He practiced diligently in the late Thirties, and by 1938, he was good enough to join the band of pianist Jay McShann. While in his teens, Parker had become addicted to morphine after being administered the drug in hospital after a car accident. His morphine addiction would lead to a heroin addiction which would contribute to his early death at age 34.

Parker quit the McShann band in 1939, and headed to New York City to begin a solo career. In the early Forties, Parker was experimenting with soloing methods. His experimentation constituted some of the early developments of be-bop music, a subgenre of jazz with which he would forever be linked. He would soon be collaborating with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, and others. In summer 1945, Parker and his friends recorded “Ko-ko” and other sides at a session for the Savoy label. That session and its recordings would become a watershed moment for bebop music.

By this time, Parker’s heroin addiction was causing him to miss gigs, and he resorted to busking on New York City streets to support his addiction. Parker then moved to Los Angeles where heroin was difficult to find, and he began to drink heavily to compensate. He was often in bad shape at recording sessions and needed, at times, to be physically supported by others. Parker moved back to New York City where he died, in 1955.

The best original albums and collections of Parker’s music include, “Charlie Parker with Strings” (1950), “Charlie Parker with Strings Vol.2” (1950), “Charlie Parker” (1953), “Big Band” (1954), “Summit Meeting at Birdland” (1977), “At Storyville” (1985), “The Genius of Charlie Parker” (1954), “The Charlie Parker Story” (1956), “The Genius of Charlie Parker” (1957), “Anthology” (1974), “Charlie Parker on Dial” (1974), “Bird/The Savoy Recordings (Master Takes)” (1974), “The Very Best of Bird” (1977), “The Complete Studio Savoy Recordings” (1978), “Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve” (1988), “Bird: The Original Recordings of Charlie Parker” (1988), “Masterworks 1946-47” (1990),”Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Collection” (1997), “The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings 1944-1948” (2000), “The Essential Charlie Parker” (2004).

Charlie Parker