Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker was born on August 29th, 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas and his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri a few years later. He began on saxophone in school at age eleven, and played baritone saxophone in the high school band until dropping out of school at age fourteen to concentrate on music.
At this time he switched to alto saxophone, influenced by local Kansas City legend and alto player Buster Smith, with whom Parker began playing with professionally at age 15. During this time, Parker spent his summers in the Ozarks with Smith’s band, spending his spare time studying Lester Young solos and music theory. In 1938 he joined up with pianist Jay McShann’s orchestra and made his first recording in 1940 with Mcshann’s band and later met future colleges Kenny Clarke and Thelonious Monk while on tour in New York. In New York, Parker played tenor saxophone with Earl Hine’s orchestra before joining Billy Eckstein’s band, where he met up with musical soul mate Dizzy Gillespie.
In 1942, Parker and Gillespie started a jam session at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem along with Clarke and Monk, where bebop was born. In 1943 Bird recorded the album ‘Birth of Bebop’ on tenor saxophone along with Dizzy, Monk, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Shadow Wilson on the drums.
Charlie Parker died in New York City on March 12, 1955. Parker was introduced to morphine in the hospital after breaking his back in a car accident as a young man and this is believed to have been the origin of his life long addiction to opiates. Parker was 34 years old at the time of his death.
“There’s always so much more to be done in music. It’s so vast. And that’s why I’m always trying to develop, to find new and better ways of saying things musically.” – Charlie Parker.