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The Flair And Flash Of Charlie Parker’s ‘Lightning’

Big jazz thinker Stanley Crouch on the wild, young mind and music of early “Bird,” Charlie Parker.

Jazz artist Charlie Parker is photographed on the bandstand at Billy Berg's Club in Hollywood, Calif., in this 1945 file photo. (AP)

Jazz artist Charlie Parker is photographed on the bandstand at Billy Berg’s Club in Hollywood, Calif., in this 1945 file photo. (AP)

Charlie Parker made his name as Bird.  The revolutionary jazz sax man out of Kansas City.  Blew up in the 1940s.  Made bebop with Dizzy Gillespie.  Blew minds all over.  Died of drug use and bad health – a lot of heroin there – at 34 in 1955.  Charlie Parker changed jazz.  Now, the great jazz writer Stanley Crouch shows us where Charlie Parker came from.  The early years.  The desperado.  Kansas City lightning.  Up next On Point:  Stanley Crouch on Bird.  Charlie Parker.

– Tom Ashbrook


Stanley Crouch, poet, novelist, biographer and jazz and cultural critic. Author of “Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker.” Also author of “The All-American Skin Game, or Decoy of Race,” “Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz,” “The Artificial White Man,” “Notes of a Hanging Judge” and “Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome?

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: When Bird Was A Fledgling – “He’s worked on this book, off and on, for more than 30 years. He’s done his share of interviews. But Mr. Crouch is not about getting his knees dirty, rooting around in old tax bills and manila folders and yellowing box-office receipts. He’s about aesthetics and ideas. His book is a 365-page riff on Charlie Parker, on America in the first half of the 20th century and on black intellect and feeling. It worked for me, mostly. To settle in and listen to Mr. Crouch on Parker’s sound is to send you racing to your CD collection or Spotify app.”

Wall Street Journal: Book Review: ‘Kansas City Lightning’ by Stanley Crouch | ‘Bird’ by Chuck Haddix | ‘Celebrating Bird’ by Gary Giddins — “On March 12, 1955, Charlie Parker achieved his greatest public fame when he died at age 34, in the elegant New York hotel apartment of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (born Rothschild, “Nica” to her friends), thus provoking the first tabloid headlines of his short and turbulent life. Unlike trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, his partner in the creation of the jazz style known as bebop, Parker was rarely interviewed, and little was known about his early life. Recognition of the alto saxophonist’s brilliant artistry was largely confined to the jazz press, at home and abroad.”

NPR: Charlie Parker: ‘Bird Lives!’ Part 1 – “In Kansas City’s jazz scene, after-hours jam sessions filled the night air. After gaining a reputation as an aspiring saxophonist, a teenaged Parker joined in a jam session with top-notch players like drummer Papa Jo Jones. The session was far out of Parker’s league, leaving the hopeful musician humiliated after listeners laughed at his inchoate playing. In a rare radio interview with fellow saxophonist Paul Desmond and disc jockey John McClellan, Parker revealed that the experience sparked his intense practicing regimen, which often found him playing as much as eleven hours at a stretch.”

Read An Excerpt Of “Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker” By Stanley Crouch


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  • jefe68

    One of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century and beyond.

    • adks12020

      I played alto sax in a jazz group in high school and that was one of the first pieces of music I learned that literally blew my mind. Of course, I came no where near to playing it like Bird, not by a long shot, but it started my long term love and appreciation of his music.

  • responseTwo

    I spent my younger years being a jazz musician in Boston, so, whenever i hear Bird it’s always amazing to me. In music, simplicity is beauty, but, in the case of Bird, i love the complexity. The problem with our society is we are so obsessed with financial success, we miss music like Bird.

    • Grigalem

      Utter hooey.

  • dremillard

    Charlie Parker was a true creative and musical genius. I put him in the same league as Mozart and Chopin. All of them created new musical forms that quickly became part of our most valued musical heritage and which continue to influence all music that came later. His virtuosity makes impossibly complex musical ideas sound perfectly beautiful and always come straight from his soul.

  • Labropotes

    Tom, I’d love to hear a bit about Bird’s mother, Patti. There is an interesting article on the net about her career as a telephone operator. She sounds like a strong character.

  • soundfriend

    Would you please not play the music and interview the guest at the same time. How annoying.

    • george dillon slater

      This is overly petulant and absent of any understanding.

      • soundfriend

        Maybe a more concrete example will help to clarify things for you. Have you ever had dinner with two friends who were talking to you at the same time?

        • george dillon slater

          He is running a national program with time constraints, not catering to your bonker whims.

          • soundfriend

            I guess you mean he is running a commercial. Perhaps this format does not do justice to the subject matter in this case.

  • george dillon slater

    Tom I was in awe of your familiarity of Bird. Here in California, you come on at 9:00 am and finish at 11:00am. I can rarely get out of bed. Why should I, when I can lay there and be titillated and educated? And, rejuvenated? Stanley Crouch, by the way was a gem. Now I know why my pal Larry Coryell went to Kansas City en route to NYC, when he left Seattle.

  • cosmogeny

    Bird’s jazz is elegant. We go back decades …

  • Asuka

    Is there any category of On Point hours that attracts fewer comments than the ones on jazz?

    • jefe68

      And your point is what? One could say the same thing about shows on poets and writers. It’s our only original musical art form born out of the blues (also and original art form) and if you don’t like it, don’t listen.

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