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Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

Photo: The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City

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  • 1920 – 1955 

    Musical giant Charlie Parker was a key creator of bebop, the jazz style marked by improvisation, quick tempos, and virtuosic technique. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Parker attended Lincoln High School. As a teenager he devoted 15 hours a day to practicing the saxophone and later played in Kansas City jazz clubs, eventually landing a job with pianist Jay McShann’s band. It was while on the road with McShann that Parker got the nickname “Yardbird” or “Bird” after the band’s car ran over a chicken (or yardbird) and Parker retrieved the dead animal lest its meat go to waste. 

    Parker soon moved to New York City and joined the band of Earl “Fatha” Hines, where he met trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, another bebop pioneer. Trumpeter Miles Davis said, “You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.” Though considered too cerebral for the mass audience, Parker’s collaborations with Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, and Davis had a galvanizing effect on the jazz world. Throughout his life Parker struggled with drug addiction. He died in New York City at age 34 and was buried in Kansas City’s Lincoln Cemetery.