A Sacred Day, “Bird” Celebrates a Birthday
Charles "Charlie" Parker, Jr.,one of the most influential jazz musicians ever, was born this day 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas. According to WIkipedia's biography, Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique and advanced harmonies. Parker was a blazingly fast virtuoso, and he introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. His tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber. Parker acquired the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career. This, and the shortened form "Bird", continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspiring the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as Yardbird Suite, Ornithology, Bird Gets the Worm, and Bird of Paradise.
But Parker's genius came with a price. Wikipedia describes it this way.
Parker's addiction to heroin caused him to miss performances and be considered unemployable. He frequently resorted to busking, receiving loans from fellow musicians and admirers, and pawning his saxophones for drug money. Heroin use was rampant in the jazz scene, and users could acquire it with little difficulty.
Although he produced many brilliant recordings during this period, Parker's behavior became increasingly erratic. Heroin was difficult to obtain once he moved to California, where the drug was less abundant, so he used alcohol as a substitute. A recording for the Dial label from July 29, 1946, provides evidence of his condition. Before this session, Parker drank a quart of whiskey. According to the liner notes of Charlie Parker on Dial Volume 1, Parker missed most of the first two bars of his first chorus on the track, Max Making Wax. When he finally did come in, he swayed wildly and once spun all the way around, away from his microphone. On the next tune, Lover Man, producer Ross Russell physically supported Parker. On Bebop he begins a solo with a solid first eight bars; on his second eight bars, however, he begins to struggle, and a desperate Howard McGhee, the trumpeter on this session, shouts, "Blow!" at him. Charles Mingus considered this version of Lover Man to be among Parker's greatest recordings, despite its flaws. Nevertheless, Parker hated the recording and never forgave Ross Russell for releasing it.
When Parker received his discharge from the hospital, he was clean and healthy. Before leaving California, he recorded Relaxin' at Camarillo in reference to his hospital stay. He returned to New York, resumed his addiction to heroin and recorded dozens of sides for the Savoy and Dial labels, which remain some of the high points of his recorded output. Many of these were with his so-called "classic quintet" including Davis and Roach.
Parker died on March 12, 1955, in the suite of his friend and patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. The official causes of death were lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer, but Parker also had an advanced case of cirrhosis and had suffered a heart attack. The coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker's 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60 years of age.