Glossary entry for
Parker, Charlie

Charles Christopher Parker, Jr. (1920 - 1955) was born in Kansas City, Kansas on August 29, 1920. Less than 35 years later, the ravages of the life he led and the drugs and alcohol he had consumed would lead a medical examiner to estimate his age at the time of his death to be 55. Charlie Parker, along with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk, would spearhead a new movement in music known as "BeBop" or "Modern Jazz."

At the age of 13 he discovered jazz and the life of jazz musicians. His mother sacrificed and bought him an old alto for $45.00 which Charlie taught himself to play. He quit school at the age of 15 and started the drug habit which would be with him throughout his life and would finally claim his life.

At the age of 15 he also got married to 19 year old Rebecca Ruffing. His mother and wife supported him while he roamed the streets of Kansas City learning to play jazz. Charlie idolized Lester Young and tried to memorize all his solos. Later he pawned his horn and moved to New York City where he took a job washing dishes at Jimmy's Chicken Shack where Art Tatum was the pianist. Later he joined the Jay McShann band in Kansas City and toured until 1942. In 1943 he joined the Earl Hines band and started working regularly with Dizzy Gillespie. Bird and Diz practiced legit studies at incredible speeds... the birth of the bebop sax-trumpet lines.

By 1945 he was concentrating on 52nd Street as his base of operations. After ruining a recording session and setting fire to his room he was committed to Camarillo State Hospital for the mentally ill. (July, 1946 - January, 1947). In 1951 he lost his NYC cabaret license, and in 1954 he was barred from Birdland after a scene which involved firing the string section. He returned home, drank a bottle of iodine and and consumed a bottle of aspirin... a month later he committed himself to the Psychiatric Pavillion. On March 12, 1955 Charlie Parker died at a friend's home.

According to Last of the Blue Devils, the fine film on Kansas City jazz and its players, Charlie Parker's "Yardbird" nickname came as a result of a road trip the Jay McShann band took Kansas City to Lincoln, Nebraska. Nearing Lincoln, a car struck a chicken that had wondered onto the road from a nearby farmyard. Witnessing this were some of the band, including Parker, who said, "Stop the car, I want that yardbird". Whereupon, after retrieving the dead chicken, Parker had it cooked that evening at the boarding house where the band stayed in Lincoln.

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