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    Relaxin’ at Camarillo: A Look At Charlie Parker

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    Charlie Parker

    Charlie Parker

    Being interested in jazz music, I was knowledgeable of Charlie Parker’s existence. However, also being a newbie to jazz, I never really got around to exploring his music until very recently. It went like this: I was reading Miles Davis’s autobiography, and as many of you jazz afficionados already know, Miles got his start playing in Charlie Parker’s band. Miles spoke very positively of Charlie Parker’s musical skill and vision. Then, one day I was at the library, and decided to check out a Charlie Parker compilation CD.

    I put it on when I got home, and was instantly amazed at Parker’s virtuosity on the sax. Many of the recordings also feature a major player in jazz: Dizzy Gillespie. The “Diz and Bird” (“Yardbird” and “Bird” were nicknames that Charlie Parker was known by) team produced some of jazz’s most memorable and innovative songs. Both were on the forefront of the bebop movement, which featured fast tempos, virtuoso playing, and improvization based on harmonic structure. When I listened to the albums, I am amazed at how many notes they manage to fit in such a short period of time. Incredible.

    Immediate;y it was clear to me why people are so into Charlie Parker. Here’s Parker’s story: He started off as a teenager playing the sax, and apparently wasn’t very good. Many of those around him expressed their displeasure with his music. In response, Charlie Parker got busy and practiced intensely–up to 15 hours a day for a period of 3-4 years. As an older teenager, Parker was involved in an automobile accident that reportedly got him hooked on morphine. This addiction led to heroin, which would haunt Parker for life.

    Parker played in several bands around his home state of Missouri. He was influenced by people like Count Basie and Lester Young–another saxophone visionary. Parker soon moved to New York, and joined other famous musicians from the legendary 52nd street scene such as Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. This scene was the birth of the bebop movement, which was famously recalled as music that “they” (white people) could not play.

    Unfortunately, Parker’s heroin addiction caused him to miss performances. In addition, many of the performances that he did make it to, he was so ufcked up from the heroin and booze that he would nod off, and simply could not play as well as he could under normal conditions. His behavior became increasingly erratic, and at one point, he was committed to Camarillo State Hospital–A mental institution about an hour out of Los Angeles. Upon release, Parker appeared to be healthy, and returned to New York where his new-found health allowed him to do some of his best playing ever.

    Parker went on to do an album that was a fusion of jazz and classical, entitled “Charlie Parker With Strings”. At this point, Charlie Parker was one of the most famous jazz musicians in the world. He recorded several more legendary performances in the early 1950’s that have all further solidified Parker’s place in the history of jazz.

    He died in 1955, at the age of 34. Years of abuse to his body caused the coroner to believe that Parker was in his 60s. Like many other musical visionaries, Parker worked hard and played hard. His musical genius is still respected and celebrated to this day.

    Charlie Parker: An American music innovator and stellar performer. You have to hear this guy on vinyl to truly appreciate the intensity of his vision and playing. Get one today, and enjoy the music!

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    Topics: Artist Tributes, jazz, Musicians I Like | No Comments »