The lullaby of Bird lingers lovingly on
by Greg Murphy, published in the Liverpool Daily Post, Saturday August 29th, 1970
While searching through an archive looking for some details on the Creed Taylor, CTI Rhythmstick project, I found this UK Newspaper clipping. The 1990 version of the CTI All-Stars covered Parker’s “Barbados” on their album and video. Also included here is a link to an embed of an excellent PBS documentary on Charlie Byrd. If you have not seen it, it’s well worth your time.
Despite the fact Parker never worked with Creed Taylor, it’s an interesting tribute to celebrate Charlie Parker’s birth on August 29th, 1920. Murphy speculates that in his final years, Parker might have benefitted from the “Creed Taylor treatment”. Read on[Yes, it has British spellings!].
TODAY, August 29, 1970, is the 50th anniversary of the birth of Charlie Yardbird Parker who, in his 35-year life span, revolutionised jazz and helped to build the foundations of modem jazz as we know it today.
Parker’s influence on his contemporaries was enormous; even today, 15 years after his death, his spirit lives on in such players as Sonny Stitt, Charles McPherson and pianist Barry Harris.
The details of Parker’s early life have tended to become obscure He showed an interest n music at an early age, but his progress appears to have been slow.
In 1936 Parker sat in on one of the jam sessions that were a way of life in his native Kansas City, but his failure to negotiate a double tempo passage led to a three-month period of inactivity.
Despite this setback, he persevered. In his mind, he could hear a radical new way of playing and in 1939. while experimenting with the tune “Cherokee,” he discovered how to translate his “sound” into musical terms. Now he had “come alive.”
Unfortunately he had also been discovering the world of narcotics; at the age of twelve a friend had given him heroin and. in Parker’s own words, “the panic was on.” This was to be the start of a dependency that was to stay with him for almost the rest of his life.
It has been claimed that narcotics provided the inspiration for Parker’s playing and some said that Parker played better whilst “high.” Parker himself vehemently denied this. Indeed, there can be little doubt that he regretted his addiction.
Parker commenced his musical career with a number of bands, notably Jay McShann’s, with whom he made his first recordings. Later he went through the bands of Earl Hines and Billy Eckstien as well as “jamming” at New York after-hour clubs.
He began to record often and in 1946 he joined a group formed by Dizzy Gillespie to tour California. However, the audiences were largely hostile and Parker’s behaviour was becoming erratic.
In February 1947, a disillusioned Gillespie decided to return with his group to New York. Parker, however, pawned his ticket and returned to the converted garage in which he was living at the time.
Things came to a head in July, 1947, when, after breaking down completely at a recording session, he set fire to his hotel bedroom. Committal to the Camarillo State Sanitorium followed. The end seemed to have come.
But it hadn’t. After seven months he was discharged and in a few weeks returned to New York. Here he embarked on what must have been his most fruitful period: his recording for Dial, Savoy and Norgran are among the classics of jazz.
In 1949, a New York club called “Birdland ” was opened and named in his honour and Parker was to broadcast from the club regularly. At about this time he began to record in more commercial settings with latin bands, choirs and strings.
From 1951 his health began to decline and his behaviour became completely unpredictable. To make matters worse, his daughter Pree, died of pneumonia; Parker attempted suicide by drinking iodine.
In 1954 he appeared with a string orchestra at “Birdland,” but played completely different numbers from the rest of the group. More often he would just not turn up.
In March, 1955, he called at the apartment of a friend, the Baroness Nica de Kenigswarterhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pannonica_de_Koenigswarter, and was taken ill shortly afterwards. Two days later, while apparently recovering, he died while watching TV. His death certificate stated pneumonia, but the actual cause has been the subject of much dispute.
After his death, slogans on walls proclaimed “Bird Lives!” and it is interesting to speculate just what path Bird would have followed had he lived. Doubtless the process of commercialisation would have continued, perhaps with Charlie playing bossa nova or semi-pop material.
He might even have been given the “Creed Taylor” treatment, recording with large orchestras in the vein of recent work by Stan Getz and Wes Montgomery. Parker held time melody in great respect and it Is doubtful if he would have joined in with the avant-garde or the pop-orientated path now being trodden by his onetime protege Miles Davis.
He might have given much-needed life to the “jazzing the classics” movement.
However, we speculate In vain. Like pianist Bud Powell, Bird was the true restless genius plunging down the trail to self-destruction.
Happily, his legacy of music is well-preserved and in most cases available on medium and low-priced labels. Parker probably has more albums available at present than all but a handful of today’s jazz men.
There is too a thriving market, for limited edition records produced by ardent collectors, usually of a previously unheard broadcast or concert.
Even a cursory listen to Parker’s music will reveal the pure, undiluted beauty of his playing and the real tragedy is that, although Bird had given so much, he had so much more to give.
Kansas City PBS is proud to present a documentary that looks back at the years Charlie “Bird” Parker spent in Kansas City and his lasting legacy on the Kansas City jazz scene. Bird: Not Out of Nowhere features rarely seen archival footage of Parker, interviews with musicians and historians, and live performances from Kansas City’s most talented jazz musicians https://www.pbs.org/show/bird-not-out-nowhere/. Select the image to go to pbs.org