Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was an extraordinary American jazz composer and saxophonist. Parker was better-known as Yardbird or Bird among the music elite. The Bird was just an ordinary nickname that influenced his entire music career. It is worth mentioning that a lot of his compositions as well as albums got names that were directly connected with ornithology and birds, for instance, Bird of Paradise, Yardbird Suite, Ornithology.     

Charlie Parker created a new and outstanding style of jazz music known as bebop or bop. This jazz style is characterized by quick tempos, unique technique, and of course, improvisation. He was known as a generator of many creative ideas and style combinations. While listening to his masterpieces, various techniques and styles of music can be easily recognized and distinguished. Charlie Parker is considered to be one of the most remarkable and influential jazz players of the 20th century. This paper will focus on the life, main events, and achievements of Charlie Parker.

Early Years and the Beginning of his Career

Charlie Parker was born on the 29th August, 1920. In the year 1927, his family moved to Kansas City where Charlie spent his childhood. His mother, Addie Parker, had to raise Charlie alone after his father had left them. In 1931, his mother bought Charlie his first music instrument; a saxophone. Having got it, he made up his mind to take music lessons. During these lessons, he practiced a lot and learnt how to improvise.

In the 1930-s, Charlie played with several local bands in different jazz clubs of the city. In 1935, he graduated from Lincoln High School and started his career as a real musician. By that time, Parker became known as Yardbird or Bird. He was said to get this nickname because he liked to eat chicken. Charlie was accepted to Jay McShann's band where his first recordings were made. In his teens, Charlie became addicted to drugs. At first, he tried morphine, while being in hospital after a car accident, and with time, he started taking heroin. Charlie could not give up this addiction till the end of his life.

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The Development of his Career

In order to continue developing his career, Charlie Parker went to New York in 1938. In New York, he had to take up every job to earn his living. It should be stressed that Charlie went on his studying and took lessons in Maury Deutsch, a music teacher.

In one of his interview, Parker mentioned that an accident occurred to him in 1939. When he and William Fleet were playing together in the jazz club, Parker discovered a method that helped him develop his solo part. Parker managed to embrace that twelve tones of the scale could lead to every key to be performed rather melodically. Applying this method, Parker broke the so called set jazz soloing (Woideck 1996). At the beginning of its establishment, Parker’s type of jazz was very criticized and rejected by many recognized jazz musicians as well as devotees. The followers of Parker, the beboppers, used calling their opponents as ‘moldy figs.’ It should be mentioned that such famous jazz players as Benny Goodman and Coleman Hawkins considered this style to be rather outstanding, creative, and free.

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During 1942-1943, Parker played with Earl Hines’s band, where he got acquainted with Dizzy Gillespie. It turned out that they even played together as a duet for several years. Many of their performances with the application of bebop were not recorded because of the two-year ban for all commercial recordings. Thus, many people did not have the opportunity to listen to this new jazz style. In 1945, the ban was canceled, and Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell got a marvelous chance to show their art as well as skills in public and influenced the development of jazz not only in America but in the whole world. Since 1945, bebop has won the world recognition. 

In November, 1945, the first real session of recording took place. During this remarkable jazz session, Parker recorded his well-known track Ko-Ko. The following year, Parker and Gillespie travelled to Los Angeles where they were treated not in a very good way. Gillespie went back to New York; while, Parker stayed in California. He went on playing, but his performances were inspired by heroin and alcohol. Due to his drug addiction, Charlie lost his job and had to live a miserable life. Heroin turned his life into a ruin where there was little place left for family, friends, and jazz. Nevertheless, Parker managed to create and record many beautiful and brilliant masterpieces, for instance, Lover Man, Bebop, Max Making Wax and others.

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In a few months, he was put into Camarillo State Mental Hospital where he had to spend six months. Having been released from the hospital, Parker looked healthier and became heroin free. Charlie continued working hard and spent all his free time on composing and recording of his masterpieces. His composition Relaxin' at Camarillo was devoted to his time spent in the hospital. Then, he decided to come back to New York and went on his cooperation with Savoy and Dial. Many compositions were recorded together with Max Roach and Miles Davis.

The most longstanding wish of Charlie Parker was to play with a sting section. He was very knowledgeable about classical composers and music. His friends stated that Parker was rather interested in Igor Stravinsky and his way of performing the music as well as innovations. He aimed at creating a project where both jazz and classical elements would be skillfully interrelated. Parker managed to create and introduce a new music that became known as Third Stream Music. In this music, a string section was supposed to be performed in accordance with the standards of jazz (Woideck 1996). 

In 1949, an album of ballads was recorded by Parker together with a chamber orchestra and a group of jazz musicians. Norman Granz helped Parker to realize his wish and comprised Charlie Parker’s album. There were the following tracks in this album: April in Paris, Everything Happens to Me, I Didn't Know What Time It Was, Just Friends, Summertime, and If I Should Lose You (Charlie Parker Biography). Parker’s improvisations are considered rather economical and reserved. If to compare them with other his works, these are not free and less creative. Of course, there are some outstanding notes and embellishments that were added to the original compositions, but there is no spontaneous improvisation in them. These compositions were recorded when he did not take heroin as well as alcohol. Maybe, his clear mind and state without euphoria influenced his manner of improvisation and work; though, Charlie Parker used saying that he was satisfied with his album, and Bird With Srings was his favorite track. It is worth stressing that it was for the first time in the history of jazz that a bebop composer played with the sting orchestra.

In the year 1953, his friends and Charlie went to Toronto to play a concert, but it was rather poorly visited by the public. As a result, this concert was recorded, and the album was released. It was called Jazz at Massey Hall.

During his career, Parker was experienced with different saxophones: the Martin Handicraft, the Martin Handicraft, and the Selmer Model 22, but his favorite one was the King Super 20 which was created especially for Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker Official Site).


His Family Life

Charlie Parker got two wives. He married for the first time in 1948. Since 1950 and till the last days of his life, he lived with Chan Richardson. She was his second wife, but they were not married officially. Charlie and Chan got two children, son Baird and daughter Pree. Pree died when she was an infant.

The End of his Career and Death

Charlie Parker died on the 12th of March, 1955. He was only 34 years old. On that very day, he was in the Stanhope Hotel with baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, his patron and close friend. According to the official version of his death, he had a bleeding ulcer and pneumonia. In reality, Parker got a heart attack and cirrhosis, and a drug addiction contributed greatly to his poor health and quick death. During all his life, Parker used telling his relatives and friends that he did not want to be buried in Kansas City, the city of his birth. Parker considered New York his real home and wanted to spend his last days as well as to find peace in this city. Everything was done in accordance with his wish; he was buried at Lincoln Cemetery, in the small village called Blue Summit.


Charlie Parker had a crucial influence on the development of jazz not only in the USA but in the whole world. Parker is recognized as one of the best-known African-American jazz musicians of the XX century. His entire life was devoted to music, to be more concrete, jazz. In 1974, Parker’s composition got Grammy in the category the Best Performance by a Soloist. Charlie Parker’s recordings were recognized as the compositions of the highest quality that have a historical significance; thus, they were introduced in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Charlie Parker’s Ko-Ko (1945) was filed into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002. Charlie Parker is highly honored in the United States of America and in the whole world.

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