Charlie Parker would have been 100 this weekend. There was the music before his popularity, and then what happened after his influence was felt. He was only 34 when he died. Bebop, the style he’s famous for, was an expansion of jazz in the late 1930s/early 1940s. He took the phrasing, melodic, and harmonic ideas that were already happening to a whole other level.
He darted in new directions seemingly without effort, pushing concepts outside of their boundaries and earning him the nickname of “Bird” along the way. Instead of a few ideas sprinkled in, he was all new ideas with some history sprinkled in as a reference point.
In perspective, moving from Louis Armstrong’s version of jazz to Charlie Parker’s isn’t dissimilar to the transition from Elvis to the Beatles in rock, or Sugar Hill Gang to Rakim (or Big Daddy Kane, or KRS – take your pick) in rap. If you don’t know Parker, find a parallel to help appreciate how important his music was and still is.
There are all sorts of things to check out, from movies to graphic novels to playlist. I’ll be spending some time with Bird today. Here are two classics to kick things off, “Ornithology” and live version of “A Night in Tunisia.”