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Charles "Bird" Parker, was born on August 29, 1920, in Kansas City. The legendary musician, who is said to have changed the face and shape of jazz, is today classed as the most famous, when not, the greatest saxophone player of all time. Together with Dizzie Gillespie and Bud Powell he is one of the founders of bebop and all critics agree, that his style paved the way and inspired generations of musicians that followed in his path.
Parkers musical career began at junior high school, when after taking his first musical steps on the baritone horn, he changed to the alto sax. Leaving school at 14, he began to play around the city, sitting in with local bands and in 1937 joined up with Jay McShanns Orchestra, who gave him his first professional experience. After visiting New York in 1939 to see some names of the period playing live (especially Art Tatum), he made his recording debut with McShann in 1940. When The McShann Orchestra arrived in New York in 1941, Parker had short solos on a few of their studio blues records and his radio broadcasts with the orchestra greatly impressed both musicians and critics alike.
After playing in Noble Sissies band for a short time in 1942, he played tenor with Earl Hines band in 1943, before joining the Billy Eckstine Orchestra for a few months in 1944. Dizzie Gillespie, who Parker first met in 1940, was also a member of both the Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine Orchestra's, and as the two became quite friendly they decided to work together, as from 1944 onwards. The first recording collaborations between Parker and Gillespie both shocked and delighted the jazz community in 1945, but when "Diz and Bird" travelled together to Los Angeles they met up with a wall of indifference and even hostility in some cases.
The two split up after Diz decided to return to New York while Parker stayed in L.A.
Parker, who was now heavily into drugs, (he was a heroin addict since he was a teenager) performed a little and recorded with "Jazz at the Philharmonic", before getting into serious alcohol and drug problems in 1946. The problems led to a mental breakdown and Parker had to spend six months of confinement at the Camarillo State Hospital. After his release in January 1947, he moved back to New York and was soon leading a quintet that included, Miles Davies, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. During the period 1947-1951 Parker was in top form and recorded some of the best cuts of his career, regularly performing, he visited Europe in 1949 and 1950. From 1949 onwards Parker recorded for Norman Granzs Verve label and continued to cut some of his best work.
In the period between 1947-1951 Parker recorded simultaneously for the Savoy and Dial labels and during this time was at the peak of his career. In 1951, Parkers cabaret license was revoked in New York (due to drug problems), making it hard for him to play the clubs and although his ability to play hadn't suffered, his general state of health and reliability began to deteriorate rapidly. His appearance at the legendary Massey Hall Concert in 1953 (with Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Max Roach) proved that he was still in top form when inspired, but sadly, Charlie Parkers career was in a steep decline. In 1954 after suffering from nervous depression and general drug problems, Parker attempted to commit suicide twice and was admitted to the Bellevue hospital.
Tragically at the age of 34, Charlie Parker died, (due to a combination of drug related medical problems) on the 12th March 1955 in New York. He will be remembered not only as the best known and one of, (if not "the") greatest saxophonist of all, but as one of the "greats", who permanently changed the face and shape of jazz!