The Sound and Myth of Charlie Parker at 100

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Tuesday January 14, 2020

From DownBeat

The Sound and Myth of Charlie Parker at 100

“To say that Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker was one of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa is a well-known painting.

In the jazz world, Parker is a towering figure, a founding father whose only other peer would be Louis Armstrong. It isn’t just that bebop, which remains the basis for modern mainstream jazz and a substantial amount of its avant-garde, is essentially his invention; for jazz educators, Parker’s music is what Shakespeare is to English teachers, not just a curricular keystone, but a central component in understanding how the language works. It would be hard to imagine what the music would sound like had Bird’s compositions and recordings never existed.

Yet when Parker died, on March 12, 1955, The New York Times responded with a death notice that read more like a police report than a tribute to a musical great. Although the story acknowledged that Bird was ‘one of the founders of progressive jazz, or be-bop’ and was a ‘virtuoso of the alto saxophone,’ most of the Times’ item was devoted to the circumstances of his death, due to lobar pneumonia, in the apartment of the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (aka Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild). ‘The police said Mr. Parker was about 53 years old,’ the paper reported.”

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