- NAME: Charlie Parker
- OCCUPATION: Songwriter, Saxophonist
- BIRTH DATE: August 29, 1920
- DEATH DATE: March 12, 1955
- EDUCATION: Lincoln High School, Charles Sumner Elementary
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Kansas City, Kansas
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: Charles Christopher Parker Jr.
- Nickname: Bird
- Nickname: Yardbird
- AKA: Charles Parker
- AKA: Charlie Parker
Best Known For
Charlie Parker was a legendary Grammy Award–winning jazz saxophonist who with Dizzy Gillespie invented the musical style called bop or bebop.
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Charlie Parker was born on August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas. From 1935 to 1939, he played the Missouri nightclub scene with local jazz and blues bands. In 1945 he led his own group, while performing with Dizzy Gillespie on the side. Together they invented bebop. In 1949, Parker made his European debut. In 1955, he gave his last performance. He died a week later, on March 12, 1955, in New York City.
"Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you."
"Music is your own experience. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn."
Legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker was born Charles Christopher Parker Jr. on August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas. His father, Charles Parker, was an African-American stage entertainer, and his mother, Addie Parker, was a maid-charwoman of Native-American heritage. An only child, Charlie moved with his parents to Kansas City, Missouri, when he was 7 years old. At the time, the city was a lively center for African-American music, including jazz, blues and gospel.
Charlie discovered his own talent for music through taking lessons at public schools. As a teen, he played the baritone horn in the school band. By the time Charlie was 15, the alto saxophone was his instrument of choice. (Charlie’s mother had given him a saxophone a few years prior, to cheer him up after his father had abandoned the family.) While still in school, Charlie started playing with bands on the local club scene. He was so enamored of playing the sax that, in 1935, he decided to drop out of school in pursuit of a full-time musical career.
From 1935 to 1939, Parker played the Kansas City, Missouri, nightclub scene with local jazz and blues bands, including Buster Professor Smith’s band in 1937, and pianist Jay McShann’s band in 1938, with which he toured Chicago and New York.
In 1939 Parker decided to stick around New York City for a while. There he remained for almost a year, worked as a professional musician and jamming for pleasure on the side. After his yearlong stint in New York, Parker was featured as a regular performer at a Chicago club before deciding to move back to New York permanently. Freshly back in New York, Parker was at first forced to wash dishes in order to get by. At work, Charlie met guitarist Biddy Fleet. It would prove a fruitful encounter. While jamming with Biddy Fleet, Parker, who was bored by popular musical conventions, discovered a signature technique that involved playing the higher intervals of a chord for the melody and making changes to back them up accordingly.
Later that year Parker heard the news of his father’s death and went back to Kansas City, Missouri, for the funeral. After the funeral Parker joined Harlan Leonard’s Rockets and stayed in Missouri for the next five months. Parker then decided it was time to head back to New York, where he would rejoin Jay McShann’s band. It was with McShann’s band, in 1940, that Parker made his first recording. Parker stayed on with the band for four years, during which time he was given several opportunities to perform solo on their recordings. It was also during his time with Jay McShann’s band that Parker earned his famous nickname "Bird," short for "Yardbird." As the story goes, Parker was given the nickname for one of two possible reasons: 1) he was free as a bird or 2) he accidentally hit a chicken, otherwise known as a yard bird, while driving on tour with the band.
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