Charlie Parker

Born: August 29, 1920
Kansas City, MO, USA
Died: March 12, 1955

Growing up in Kansas City, Charlie Parker was inundated in the rich jazz music scene that was happening around him. He dropped out of school at a very young age, and began following his dreams of becoming a famous jazz musician. He had started as a child playing the baritone, but eventually switched to the alto sax. His fingers were shaky at first, and he wasn’t good right away. In 1937, however, after years of practicing, he joined Jay McShann’s Orchestra, and began impressing all of his piers with the stream of consciousness that flowed through him.

He supplemented his income by working as a dishwasher, and he was able to hear his heroes perform on a regular basis in the restaurants in which he worked. He admired players such as Lester Young and Art Tatum. In 1940, he took those influences and recorded a dynamic album with Jay McShann, including the popular “Honeysuckle Rose.” When other musicians heard his solos on the album, they were frightened and excited by his new musical ideas. He had opportunities to jam with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, and he had stints with Noble Sissle’s band, Earl Hine’s band, and Billy Eckstine’s orchestra, all throughout the early 40’s.

It was the album that Parker and Gillespie put out in 1945 that received the most attention from the jazz scene. Musicians everywhere were intimidated by the fast and furious approach to soloing, in a time when Benny Goodman ruled the airwaves. Shunned at first by other musicians, the style rapidly caught on with the younger crowd who liked to dance to the fast-paced music, and they began calling it Bebop. As bop grew rapidly, Parker and Gillespie traveled to L.A., but they were met with opposition and decided to return home. Parker ended up staying in L.A., however, and made a couple of recordings before suffering a drug-related nervous breakdown which landed him in the Camarillo State Hospital.

In 1947, Parker was released from the hospital, and he quickly made his way back to New York to begin his career again. He played lead in a quintet that included Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. He enjoyed great success throughout the rest of the 40’s, and into the early 50’s. However, in 1951 his life began to go downhill. A lifetime of heroin abuse made him increasingly undependable, and this resulted in the revocation of his cabaret license, which made is virtually impossible to play in respectable nightclubs. He attempted suicide two times before being admitted into Bellevue Hospital, where his mental and physical health declined rapidly until his death in March of 1955.

Parker’s influence on jazz and other styles of music is immeasurable. He is still known by many to be the greatest saxophonist of all time.

Instruments Played / Skills:
Saxophone Composer


Charlie Parker Has Worked With:
Benny Carter Kenny Dorham Slim Gaillard Red Garland Erroll Garner Earl Hines Billy Strayhorn

Charlie Parker Was Influenced By:
Buster Smith Art Tatum Lester Young

Artists That Were Influenced By Charlie Parker:
Greg Abate Burt Bacharach Walter Benton Miles Davis Lou Donaldson Big Jay McNeely Lewis Partridge Buddy Scott Dave Spector Sarah Vaughan
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"I'd rather be dead than sing Satisfaction when I'm 45."

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