Charlie Parker at 100: Commemorating His Centennial
By John Edward Hasse
Despite the pandemic, Charlie Parker’s centennial is being widely celebrated through radio programs, streamed concerts, exhibitions, CD and vinyl releases, and new books, including a graphic novel.
You can hear the influence of Charlie Parker at Starbucks, in TV and movie soundtracks, in much of jazz of the last 70 years, even in other types of music. The alto saxophonist, who rocketed through the firmament, only to burn out completely at age 34, became one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. As a founder of the daring bebop style, he took jazz to new heights of velocity and virtuosity.
Born August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, he was so pivotal that you can divide the history of jazz into two big eras, before and after him. His impact is deep and enduring. Other musicians idolized him, fans lionized him, and the press criticized or canonized him. “Four notes,” marveled Sheila Jordan, then a young singer. “I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s it. That’s the music I will dedicate my life to.”
Here’s a rundown.
Kansas City’s annual Charlie Parker celebration, Spotlight Charlie Parker, has been scaled down this year, but is still offering twenty events culminating with a 12-hour virtual jam session on August 29. https://spotlightcharlieparker.org/
The annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in New York City has transitioned this year to a digital content series, including a “Culture Talk” conversation between bass virtuoso Christian McBride and bebop legend Sheila Jordan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJQkXf537kE&t=3s
New York City’s cultural center 92Y salutes Parker with 24 hours of multidisciplinary events on August 28 and 29. “Charlie Parker: Now’s the Time — Celebrating Bird at 100” includes a specially commissioned dance film choreographed by Hope Boykin. https://www.92y.org/charlieparker
Jazz at Lincoln Center presents Bird Lives! Charlie Parker at 100 Festival, from August 25 to September 4, offering a series of livestream concerts https://www.facebook.com/DizzysClub and interactive workshops https://www.facebook.com/jalcjazzacademy/, all free of charge.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem holds three events: an August 25 concert, “Latin Bird,” an August 27 listening session, “Jazz For Curious Listeners: The Rarest Bird,” and an August 28 panel discussion about Clint Eastwood’s 1988 movie Bird. The events will appear on Facebook Live at noon, and then post to YouTube by the evening.
In Los Angeles, the Grammy Museum is organizing a virtual panel discussion this fall about the Bird in LA release and Chasin’ the Bird graphic novel.
CDs and Vinyl
Leading the way in vinyl and CD releases is Parker’s long-time record label, Verve. On August 7, it reissued The Magnificent Charlie Parker — 1951 recordings with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and others — on vinyl. Verve will issue Bird in LA, a set of live recordings, 1945–52, this fall as 2 CDs or 4 LPs. On November 20, Verve plans to release a vinyl box set, Charlie Parker: The Mercury & Clef 10-Inch LP Collection. It will include five albums with David Stone Martin’s illustrated covers, a slipcase, and a booklet with essays by pianist Ethan Iverson and author David Ritz. Several David Stone Martin illustrations that graced Parker’s 1950s Verve albums are now available as framed canvas prints from uDiscover. https://shop.udiscovermusic.com/collections/charlie-parker
A Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker concert recorded at Town Hall in June 1945 will be issued on colored vinyl by Premium Cool records on August 29. https://recordstoreday.com/SpecialRelease/12404. Also on August 29, Blue Note Records will issue Jazz at Midnite on midnight blue vinyl: live 1952–53 recordings from the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, with Max Roach, Charlie Byrd, and others. A “Record Store Day” release, it will be sold exclusively at independent record stores. https://recordstoreday.com/SpecialRelease/12253
The Original Savoy 10-Inch Collection, recordings from1944–48, will come out as a CD on November 6 from Craft Recordings https://craftrecordings.com/collections/savoy-records.
WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s student-run radio station, will offer a 120-hour marathon broadcast Charlie Parker Centennial Festival, from August 29 at 12:01 am through September 2 at 11:59 pm. On September 3, WKCR will present “Beyond Bird,” a 24-hour examination of Parker’s continuing influence on the arts. www.wkcr.org
Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Real Jazz channel is saluting Parker each Thursday this August with arranger John Beasley talking with special guests, including Parker contemporaries Sonny Rollins and Sheila Jordan. On Saturdays and Sundays, it’s Weekends with the Bird, playlists selected by leading alto sax players. https://www.siriusxm.com/realjazz
The American Jazz Museum in Kansas City is displaying Saxophone Supreme: The Life & Music of Charlie Parker, from July 19 to December 31, featuring album covers, sheet music, documents, artworks, and rare audio tracks. https://americanjazzmuseum.org/exhibition/SaxophoneSupreme
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture unveils a prized acquisition, Parker’s King brand alto saxophone, made about 1947, engraved with his name. It invites the public to experience a 3-D interactive exhibition to explore his saxophone up close and from different angles. https://3d.si.edu/object/3d/alto-saxophone-owned-and-played-charlie-parker:c7c58ff8-fd1f-4cf6-9813-6bca3cd0b8b3
Z2 Comics will publish the 144-page graphic novel Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California, depicting his tumultuous two years in Los Angeles beginning in December 1945. Created by trumpeter/writer Dave Chisholm and colorist Peter Markowski, an art director at DreamWorks, and carrying a foreword by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the book will be released on September 29 and available in standard or deluxe editions. https://z2comics.com/products/charlie-parker-chasin-the-bird-graphic-novel?variant=34100481327244
In time for Parker’s centennial, the University of Michigan Press has just published a revised edition of Carl Woideck’s Charlie Parker: His Music and Life. https://www.press.umich.edu/11661786/charlie_parker
And Oxford University Press has issued Charlie Parker, Composer, an erudite survey of his compositions, by Rutgers professor Henry Martin. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/charlie-parker-composer-9780190923389?cc=us&lang=en&
For the first time, musicians, educators, and scholars will have access to a handsome edition of note-for-note transcriptions of 40 of Parker’s quintet recordings for saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass and drums, in a hardcover book with slipcase. Charlie Parker: The Complete Scores, will be published on September 21 by Hal Leonard. It includes Billie’s Bounce, Anthropology, Ornithology, and others. https://www.halleonard.com/product/304599/charlie-parker--the-complete-scores
For further information on some of these activities, visit http://charlieparkermusic.com/# and click on Bird100.
Author and speaker John Edward Hasse is Curator Emeritus of American Music at the Smithsonian. His books include Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington (Da Capo) and Discover Jazz (Pearson). He contributes regularly to The Wall Street Journal.