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Charlie Parker Biography

Home > Music > P > Parker, Charlie > Biography

Birth Name: Charles Parker, Jr.
Born: 1920/08/29
Birth Place: Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Died: 1955/03/12
Years Active: 1937–1955
Genres: Jazz, Bebop

Charlie Parker was born on August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas and was a world-famous jazz saxophonist and composer. Parker was also known by his acquired the nickname “Yardbird,“ which he picked up early in his career, from this came the shortened version of, “Bird,” which he continued to use for the rest of his life.

Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and considered to be a leading figure in the development of bebop. Parker's style incorporated jazz, blues, Latin, and classical music. Parker was associated with the Beat Generation, and gave birth to an entire subculture around his style of music, which personified jazz musicians as not merely entertainers, but also intellectuals.

Parker began playing the saxophone at the age of 11, and by the time he was 14 years old he had joined his school band. Parker's father was a pianist, dancer and singer, and while absent for most of Parker's upbringing due to his busy touring schedule, his father introduced Parker to music and helped to nurture his love for it. Parker was a diligent student practicing music for up to 15 hours a day until he had mastered his instrument and perfected his technique.

During the 1930s he began to play with local bands in jazz clubs around Kansas City. In 1938, Parker joined Jay McShann's band and toured local venues around the southwest, Chicago, and New York City. One year later Parker relocated to New York City and once there he worked with Earl Hines and Dizzy Gillespie. Parker made a name for himself playing with a group of up-and-coming musicians in after-hours clubs in Harlem. Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, and Kenny Clarke were among the musicians Parker played with at this time.

Parker's love for classical music led to a long-lasting desire to play with a string quartet. In 1949, Parker fulfilled his wish and recorded an album with a group of jazz and chamber orchestra musicians, which resulted in a series of works called “Charlie Parker with Strings,” including, “Just Friends,” “Everything Happens to Me,” “April in Paris,” “Summertime,” “I Didn't Know What Time It Was,” and “If I Should Lose You.”

By 1950, Parker was a household name, and 1953 saw Parker perform at the Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada with Gillespie, Mingus, Bud Powell and Max Roach. A jazz album emerged as a result of the concert, “Jazz at Massey Hall.” Tragically, 1955 saw Parker’s career come to the end when he died at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City. Parker had suffered a heart attack, but years of heroin use and heavy drinking also impacted his health. Parker was only 34 years of age.