Charlie Parker’s 100th Birthday — Memories of a Great Artist

Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Max Roach

He’s been called “the American Mozart.” And the comparison is notable. Both Charlie Parker and his Austrian counterpart died in their 30s, both were remarkable improvisors and gifted musicians, and both lived (shall we say) extreme lives.

And you can argue that Charlie “Yardbird” Parker (born August 29, 1920) was as influential a figure in 20th century music as Mozart was in the 18th. Parker inspired writers, filmmakers, poets, artists and of course countless musicians. This list is a long one.

One of Parker’s earliest literary champions was the Beat writer Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac reads from Mexico City Blues, with Steve Allen at the piano.
Click to open in YouTube
Charley Parker Looked like Buddha
Charley Parker, who recently died
Laughing at a juggler on the TV
after weeks of strain and sickness,
was called the Perfect Musician.
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the East, the lidded eyes,
The expression that says “All is Well”
—This was what Charley Parker
Said when he played, All is Well.
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit’s joy, or like
the perfect cry
Of some wild gang at a jam session
“Wail, Wop”—Charley burst
His lungs to reach the speed
Of what the speedsters wanted
Was his Eternal Slowdown.
A great musician and a great
creator of forms
That ultimately find expression
In mores and what have you.

— from Mexico City Blues, Jack Kerouac

What Charlie Parker recordings should we be listening to today? Well, one of our favorites has always been the Complete Live Performances on Savoy: Sept. 29, 1947-Oct. 25, 1950.

Charlie Parker Savoy Originals

Orrin Keepnews produced this four-CD set, so you know it’s done right. Great liner notes by Loren Schoenberg. With a list of suggested books for further reading. And state-of-the-art (for 1998) digital transfers.

But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the classics: Charlie Parker with Strings, Jazz at Massey Hall, or Bird and Diz.

For those who want to dig deep, there’s The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes, covering everything Bird recorded for those two labels from 1945 through 1948.

And (if you can find it) the 1948 recordings made at the Royal Roost in New York, released on ESP-Disk’ in 1973 are a treat. With live announcements by the one and only “Symphony Sid” Torin.

Yes, that’s a real album cover.

It’s all just music. Real gone music.

Charlie Parker