Who is Charlie Parker?

Charles Parker Jr was born on August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas. Charlie and his parents to Kansas City, Missouri when he was 7 years old. The city was a lively center for African-American music at the time. While still in school, Charlie started playing with bands on the local club scene. He was so into music he decided to drop out of school in pursuit of a full-time musical career in 1935. 

The Start of Charlie's Career

From 1935 to 1939, Parker played the Kansas City, Missouri nightclub scene with local jazz and blues bands, including Buster Professor Smith’s band in 1937. While working in New York, Parker met guitarist Biddy Fleet. Working with Fleet Parker discovered a signature technique that involved playing the higher intervals of a chord for the melody and making changes to back them up accordingly. After Parker’s father died he stayed in Missouri for 5 months. He then went back to New York, where he rejoined Jay McShann’s band and he made his first recording in 1940. Parker stayed on with the band for four years.  It was also during his time with McShann that Parker earned his nickname “Bird,” short for “Yardbird.” There isn’t a definite reason as to how Parker got the nickname but there are some speculations. This nickname continued to be used for the rest of his life and it inspired the titles of a many of his compositions like “Yardbird Suite” and “Bird of Paradise”.

Charlie's Creation of Bebop

In 1942 Parker signed up for an eight-month gig with Earl Hines. Then in 1944, Parker joined the Billy Eckstine band. At this stage in his career, he is believed to have come into his maturity as a musician. For the first time, he became the leader of his own group while also performing with Dizzy Gillespie on the side. Together they managed to invent an entirely new style of jazz, commonly known as bop, or bebop. Parker stayed on in Los Angeles until the summer of 1946. In January of 1947 he formed a quintet in New York. With his group, Parker performed some of his best-known and best-loved songs, including his own compositions like  “Cool Blues.”

Charlie's Overall Contribution to Jazz

Parker was a very influential jazz soloist and one of the creators of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos and advanced harmonies. Charlie Parker introduced harmonic ideas including rapid passing chords and new variants of altered chords. 

Extra Personal Facts

Throughout his adult life, Parker battled with a heroin addiction, alcoholism and mental illness caused turbulence in his career and personal relationships. His abuse of drugs caused his first marriage to fail but he did have two children before the divorce in 1939. In 1942, Parker remarried to Geraldine Scott but stress caused him to use again and he ended up leaving his second wife not long after they were married. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental hospital. Newly clean in 1948, Parker married Doris Snyder, but the marriage fell apart quickly when Parker started using again. Parker had two more children, one of whom died young, with his girlfriend. Parker also tried to kill himself with iodine. He finally died in 1955 from an untreated ulcer attack.

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