Composer and saxophonist Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920 to Charles and Addie Parker. He went on to become one of the most influential saxophonists by introducing revolutionary styles of performance and improvisation.

Charlie Parker first picked up the baritone sax around the age of 11 and later switched to alto. At the age of 14 he dropped out of school to pursue music, but he initially struggled to succeed. After a few embarrassing moments at jam sessions, Parker spent time woodshedding, building up his technique and studying.

His debut recording was made in 1940 with Jay McShann as part of his small group on “Oh, Lady Be Good” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” He later recorded with Dizzy Gillespie in 1945, introducing what became known as bebop to the jazz world. In 1947, Parker started a quintet with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. In 1949 Parker also recorded with strings on the album “Charlie Parker with Strings.”

Charlie Parker was known as “Yardbird” or “Bird” and there are a variety of stories surrounding the origin of the name spanning from a reflection of his playing style to a reference to his favorite food (rumored to be fried chicken). A number of songs written by Parker refer to his nickname including “Yardbird Suite” and “Bird Gets the Worm.”

Since his teens, Charlie Parker had been a heroin addict and in addition to heavy drinking, his addiction led to his spending time at Camarillo State Hospital while he was in California. Because of his drug use and increasing unreliability, Parker eventually lost his cabaret license, making it difficult for him to play in New York.

He died at the age of 34 in the hotel room of a friend from the pneumonia and an ulcer as well as cirrhosis and a heart attack.

In his short life, Charlie Parker revolutionized jazz and his playing style has influenced generations of musicians. Clint Eastwood, the father of jazz bassist Kyle Eastwood, created a movie about the life Charlie Parker starring Forest Whitaker. “Bird” was released in 1988.

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.