Bird Lore


Birdlore - tekening Charlie ParkerBIRD LORE
A Revised Charlie Parker Discography
Compiled by Piet Koster

With a biographical note by Harm Mobach

Drawing of Bird by Cisca Bakker

Published by Names & Numbers, Discographival Publications Amsterdam


In 2002 verschenen in Nederland drie met een ringband gebonden boekjes met een discografie van altsaxofonist Charlie Parker. “Dit is met afstand de meest complete en de meest toegankelijke discografie die wij ooit onder ogen kregen”, oordeelde de redactie van Jazzbulletin. Het eerste deel is de feitelijke discografie, de andere twee delen bestaan uit bijlagen die het zoeken gemakkelijk maken en veel informatie verschaffen. In deel 1 een voorwoord van de samensteller Piet Koster, en een biografische schets door Harm Mobach. Het boek is nu alleen nog antiquarisch verkrijgbaar.

Met dank aan de uitgever is hierna de biographical note opgenomen, met een lijst van de geraadpleegde bronnen.

Harm Mobach


Parker: Charles (1)
Born: Kansas City, Kansas, August 29, 1920
Died: New York City, March 12, 1955

“Charlie Parker was one of the great transforming figures of twentieth-century music, and the history of jazz is inconceivable without him. Like Armstrong, Beethoven, or Schoenberg, Parker was one of those ultra-rare originals in which a tradition’s past, present, and future merge. In a musical culture where creativity and individualism are aesthetic, indeed, ethical first principles, Parker was a landmark innovator.”(2)
In Charlie Parker’s early years his parents had no reason to suspect that the above quoted lines would ever be written about their son. Charlie’s father was a vaudeville artist from Memphis, Tennessee. After he moved to Kansas City, Kansas, and settled down as a local entertainer, he married a seventeen year old girl, Addie Boyley (3) with whom he had a problematic relationship.
Charles Parker Sr. was an alcoholic and seldom at home because his wife did not permit strong liquor in the house. The Parker family also included Charlie’s elder half-brother John, known as lkey, the product of Charles Sr.’s liaison with an Italian woman. Around 1931 Charles Sr. left his family, taking lkey with him. One could say that Charlie Parker was raised by his mother, a respectable woman who was forced to earn her living with domestic cleanings after Charlie’s birth.
Until the age of twelve Charles Parker Jr. was a well-behaved and industrious pupil. But when he transfered to Lincoln High School (in 1931 or 1932) he was no longer interested in study achievements, but developed into an incorrigible truant. His interest was in music. He played baritone horn and clarinet in the school band. His preference however was the saxophone and his mother, who as always tried her best to fulfill his wishes, bought him an unusable alto saxophone for forty-five dollars. After being repaired, for an even higher sum, Charlie’s interest in the instrument diminished and he lent it to a friend. When he realized the shortcomings of his cumbersome brass instrument (the baritone horn), he returned to the alto saxophone and started practicing fanatically, often together with fellow student pianist Lawrence Keys who also led a band called “The Deans of Swing”, in which Charlie participated.
About this period Gary Giddins writes: “For nearly two years, nothing about the boy’s playing suggested much potential. Only the degree of his obsession, a burning faith that enlarged his gaze beyond customary responsibilities, begged notice. He taught himself as best he could, soliciting help from anyone who might be able to teach him, but he attended school periodically, chiefly to play in the band.” (4)
In 1935 Charlie left Lincoln High School to throw himself still deeper into the nightclub scene of Kansas City, Missouri, where he listened to the jazz greats of those days as Kansas City was the Las Vegas of the thirties. Next to large rooms for dancing, there were the small adults-only clubs, like the Cherry Blossom, where Lester Young, Ben Webster and Herschel Evans, the cream of the city’s tenors, challenged and bested the king, Coleman Hawkins. (5) In the Reno Club Parker listened to the Count Basie band which had, besides tenor saxophonist Lester Young, also alto saxophonist and arranger Buster Smith, from whom he learned a lot.

Bassist Gene Ramey tells the well-known story of Charlie’s humiliation in the Reno Club:

“When I saw Bird during that time, he was a little bit downhearted, because everybody would be holding jam sessions – and he was one of the few musicians who was never allowed to sit in. In particular, I remember one night when we were to jam with Basie. Jo Jones waited until Bird started to play and then, as an expression of his feeling, took his cymbal off and threw it almost the complete distance of the dance floor. It fell with a tremendous crash, and Bird, humiliated, just packed up his horn and walked out. However, this gave him a big determination to play. ‘I’ll fix these cats,’ he used to say. ‘Everybody’s laughing at me now, but just you wait and see!’ “ (6)

July 1936 Charlie Parker married Rebecca Ellen Ruffin, who like Charlie at that moment was 16 years old, and in January 1938 their son Francis Leon Parker was born. The marriage was not very solid as Charlie was seldom home. According to Rebecca, Charlie got hooked on drugs in 1937.(7) Drugs and excessive drinking began to take more and more control over his life and his professional existence as a musician. This in spite of Parker’s own words in 1949:

”Any musician who says he is playing better either on tea, the needle, or when he is juiced, is a plain, straight liar. When I get too much to drink, I can’t even finger well, let alone play decent ideas. And in the days when I was on the stuff, I may have thought I was playing better, but listening to some of the records now, I know I wasn’t. Some of these smart kids who think you have to be completely knocked out to be a good hornman are just plain crazy. It isn’t true. I know, believe me.’’ (8)

Bird’s Search Rewarded In Cherokee
In 1938 Charlie ended up in prison after a brawl with a cab-driver he stabbed with a knife. After his release he pawned his alto saxophone and departed for Chicago. The King Kolax band was playing there. He borrowed the alto saxophone of Goon Gardner, who – just as the bandmembers Budd Johnson and Billy Eckstine – was surprised at the progress of Charlie’s playing. Goon Gardner gave Charlie clothes, a clarinet and also provided him with gigs. Shortly afterwards Gardner learned that Parker had departed without even leaving a message.
In 1939 he turned up in New York, as dishwasher in Jimmy’s “Chicken Shack”, where pianist Art Tatum played. Charlie spent all his spare time jamming around Harlem, especially at Clark Monroe’s “Uptown House” and Dan Wall’s Chili House. It was in the Chili House, while jamming with guitarist Biddy Fleet, that Parker supposedly suddenly saw the possibilities of improvising with the upper partials of chords. The source for this assertion is an article by John Wilson and Michael Levin in Down Beat, September 9, 1949:

“Charlie’s horn first came alive in a chili house on Seventh avenue between 139th Street and 140th Street in December, 1939. He was jamming there with a guitarist named Biddy Fleet. At the time, Charlie says, he was bored with the stereotyped changes being used then.
‘I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else,’ he recalls. ‘I could hear it sometimes but I couldn’t play it.’
Working over “Cherokee” with Fleet, Charlie suddenly found that by using higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropiately related changes, he could play this thing he had been “hearing.” Fleet picked it up behind him and bop was born.’’(9)

The First Recordings – Bird Proves His Mastery
In 1940 Charlie returned to Kansas City for his father’s funeral. That same year he joined the Jay McShann Orchestra. His marriage with Rebecca Ruffin broke up. It is not clear, however, if it ever ended in a legal divorce. On the 9th of August 1940 amateur recordings of Parker were made with the McShann band in de Trocadero Ballroom in Wichita, Kansas: One O’Clock Jump and Walkin and Swingin. In 1940 Parker also met Dizzy Gillespie for the first time. During the McShann years, Parker is supposed to have acquired his nickname of Yardbird, later shortened to Bird, because of his fondness for chicken.(10) Parker himself gave a different explanation: “It was back in his schooldays, he said, that his name started going through a series of mutations which finally resulted in Bird. As Charlie reconstructs it, it went from Charlie to Yarlie to Yarl to Yard to Yardbird to Bird” (11)
In 1941 Parker made his first commercial recordings for the Decca label with the McShann band. A year later he renewed his acquaintance with Dizzy Gillespie and they played together regularly during jam sessions in New York. In “Minton’s Playhouse” on 118th Street musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and others tried out new things during nightly jam sessions, often after their regular big band jobs. Soon after that, 52nd Street, where all kinds of cafes and nightclubs were situated next to each other, became the Mecca of modern jazz. (12)
At the end of 1942 Parker joined the Earl Hines big band, of which Dizzy Gillespie was already a member. Since the only vacancy was for a tenor saxophonist he exchanged his alto for a tenor saxophone. His drug addiction caused all kinds of problems, but had no consequences for his musical development. In April 1943, while the Hines band was on tour in Washington D.C., Parker married Geraldine Scott, a dancer and the only one of his wives whom he allowed to dabble in drugs. As she later remarked: “When I met him, all he had was a horn and a habit. He gave me the habit.” (13) The marriage lasted about a year, though no record of their divorce was ever found.
In 1944 Billy Eckstine, vocalist with Earl Hines, decided to form his own big band in the new jazz style. Dizzy Gillespie said about this period: “… Billy Frazier, Dexter Gordon, Lucky Thompson, John Jackson, Charlie Rouse, and Gene Ammons were in the sax section at one time or another with Bird. That was a radical band. It was the forerunner of all the big modern bands.’’ (14)
On September 15th, 1944, Parker was invited to join guitarist Lloyd ‘Tiny’ Grimes for a recording date(15) and after that things happened fast. On January 5th, 1945, Parker and Gillespie played together for the first time at a recording session led by pianist Clyde Hart. In the following months, various groups led by Dizzy Gillespie recorded the legendary versions of songs like Groovin’ High, Salt Peanuts, Shaw ‘Nuff and Lover Man (with Sarah Vaughan). The 6th of June 1945 gave us the famous session with vibraphonist Red Norvo (16) and on November the 26th of that same year Parker recorded for the first time as a leader for the Savoy label, with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie in his group. Songs like Now’s the Time and Billie’s Bounce (both classic blues), Meandering (based on Embraceable You) and not forgetting the breathtaking Koko (Cherokee) are proof of Parker’s mastership.(17)
Late 1945 Parker moved in with Doris Sydnor. Carl Woideck mentions in his chronological survey a marriage-date of spring 1948.(18) This was another marriage that did not last long. In 1950 Charlie broke up with Doris and moved in with Chan Richardson, who he already knew when he started the affair with Doris Sydnor.(19)
Early 1946 Norman Granz hired Parker for the first time. During a Jazz at the Philharmonic Concert in Los Angeles he played with Lester Young, his earliest source of inspiration. On the 28th of January 1946 he improvised two choruses on Lady Be Good (20), in the words of Gary Giddins “choruses that alchemize the Gershwin ballad into a near-feral blues”(21); after the solo by bass player Billy Hadnott, Lester Young gave his version of this classic with which he made his recording debut in 1936.
On the 28th March 1946 Ross Russell recorded for his Dial label four famous tunes: Moose the Mooche (named by Parker for his L.A. narcotics supplier), Yardbird Suite, Ornithology and Gillespie’s composition Night in Tunisia. The first take of the last composi-tion, lasting only 47 seconds, was released as The Famous Alto Break.(22) Some months later, on the 29th of July, Parker collapsed during a Dial recording session, which became known as the Lover Man session. He had used benzedrine a number of days in succession and therefore was in a bad condition. A doctor, present in the studio, thought his behavior indicated heroin addiction and gave him a stimulating remedy. This had the opposite effect and resulted, after a ten days stay in prison, in hospitalization in Camarillo State Hospital. Doris Sydnor supported Parker during his stay in this mental institution, from where he was discharged at the end of January 1947 after psychiatric treatment.(23)
Bird was back on the 19th of February 1947 in the MacGregor Studios in Hollywood, where he met pianist Erroll Garner for recording amongst others, Cool Blues and Bird’s Nest.(24) Shortly afterwards, February 26th, 1947, four superb titles were cut, that contain the most complete Parker hitherto recorded in a studio. As the title of one of the songs Relaxin’ at Camarillo already indicates, this was in more than one way ‘a happy session’, with an important contribution by tenor player Wardell Gray.(25)

The “Classic” Period
Back in New York in April 1947 Parker formed his ‘classic’ quintet, consisting of trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Max Roach. With this quintet Parker performed at Manhattan’s “The Three Deuces” and recorded for Dial, Ross Russell’s label. The Dial sessions of October 28th and November 4th, 1947 contain the most beautiful ballads ever played by Parker. Bird of Paradise (based on “All the Things You Are”), My Old Flame and Don’t Blame Me, are little gems, but the unsurpassable top was Embraceable You.(26) Lawrence Koch writes: “Parker’s Embraceable You is representative of the jazz-ballad playing of the 1940s just as Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul is representative of the 1930s. Both performances were done near the end of their respective decades and serve as cumulative statements for the art of ballad playing. Moreover, both stand up remarkably well in today’s world, and both have lessons of lyricism to offer to all young performers.”(27)
In 1947 and 1948 Parker was again recording for the Savoy label. In fact he had already promised Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records to cut 30 sides for this label before he signed his contract with Ross Russell. I mention the sessions of May 8th, August 14th, December 21th, 1947, and also the final ones for Savoy on September 18th and 24th, 1948. The period in which the Dial and Savoy sessions were recorded, was probably the happiest time of Parker’s life. He lived with the considerate Doris Sydnor in a modest apartment in Manhattan and led a more normal life than he was ever used to. Trying to stay away from drugs, he overcompensated this with an excessive use of alcohol. This drinking problem led to a violent ulcer attack. In hospital he was assured that if he resumed drinking again it would be fatal.
About the Dial and Savoy recordings Max Harrison writes: “… the level in general maintained can fairly be described as phenomenal. This corpus of music can only be compared with Ellington’s 1940 recordings or, more significantly, with Armstrong’s Hot Sevens of 1927.”(28) For an extensive review on Parker’s recordings in his ‘classic period’ I refer to Lawrence Koch.(29) One title deserves special mention: Parker’s Mood, recorded on the 18th of September 1948, a blues that still moves me and calls up emotions like Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong did before. The ‘new take’, that appeared for the first time on a Savoy album (S5J-5500), caps everything, as far as I am concerned.(30) In James Patrick’s words: “The rhythmic subtlety is fantastic: the complexity of individual phrases; the staggered, not-quite-on-the-beat flow. At the same time, there is a singable/speakable naturalness of vocal/oral tradition in the varied inflection of repetitive figures. The net effect is a performance that, all at once, is progressive and traditional, astonishing and deeply moving.”(31)
Between September 1948 and March 1949 many live recordings were made at The Royal Roost (see the sessions in the period from September 11th, 1948 till March 12th, 1949).(32) On January 3rd, 1949, Parker participated in the Metronome All Stars recording session. Overtime and Victory Ball are very rewarding performances and give a good picture of some of the brightest stars of the era.(33)
In May 1949 Parker flew to Paris with Doris Sydnor and the quintet (Kenny Dorham had replaced Miles Davis on trumpet). He played more than once at the International Jazz Festival in Paris (Salle Pleyel) and also played in Marseille and Roubaix. The concerts featured both traditional and modern jazz and Parker shared top star billing with veteran Sidney Bechet. Lawrence Koch remarks: “The Paris Festival recordings are certainly not good examples of Bird and the French ‘pushers’ only contributed to his dependence on drugs.”(34)

Summits From The Verve-Period
Impresario Norman Granz played an important role in Parker’s career. The complete recordings Parker made for Norman Granz were re-issued in 1988 on a 10-CD set that contains – together with the Dial and Savoy sessions – the most beautiful Parker music. From the “Jazz At The Philharmonic” concerts I already mentioned Lady Be Good (January 28th, 1946). I Got Rhythm (April 22nd, 1946) must not be overlooked, because this is the only recording where the three most important saxophonists of the day, i.e. Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and Lester Young, play their solos after each other. Worthy of special mention is the song Embraceable You especially, from the “Jazz At The Philharmonic” session on the 18th of September 1949. When Lester Young opens his solo, he seems to be acknowledging Bird’s masterpiece on Dial. Trombonist Tommy Turk sounds very pleasant in the beginning, but is not convincing all the time. About Parker’s solo – one of the best in his JATP period – Lawrence Koch writes: “Bird is a bit squeaky, but the overall performance is an emotional experience.” (35)
The recordings known as “Parker with Strings” (see November 30th, 1949, summer 1950, September 17th, 1950 and January 22nd or 23rd, 1952) were not a commercial gimmick by Norman Granz, but Charlie Parker’s own idea. A high point from the session of November 30th, 1949 is Just Friends.(36) I remember that at the time we played Parker’s intro many times in succession: we hadn’t heard anything like it before. It is still an astonishing performance. Parker later cited this performance as one of the pieces of his own work that he himself liked.(37)
Two recordings deserving special mention are Celebrity, featuring Parker and Buddy Rich, and Ballade (both October 1950), based on Ellington’s “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good”, with both Hawkins and Parker in excellent shape. The specialty being that these recordings were made for a never released movie. The music was retained and – don’t ask how – even the images of this session have turned up on video and DVD. Together with Hot House (from the 24th February 1952), played by both Charlie and Dizzy when receiving the Down Beat Award 1951, this is to date the only known surviving film of Parker actually playing.
I also want to mention the recording session on August 8th, 1951, including amongst others Blues For Alice, Si Si and Swedish Schnapps. Parker, using a “growl” tone quite frequently, is in excellent shape and the rhythm section (John Lewis, Ray Brown and Kenny Clarke) could not be better. That goes also for the set, recorded on the 30th December 1952, including Kim and Cosmic Rays. Quoting Lawrence Koch: “It has a wonderful light feel in the rhythm section and it is very well recorded.” (38) Finally there is the last studio session on the 30th of July 1953 when Parker was in top form. Parker had never recorded Chi-Chi and I Remember You before. Confirmation existed only in live recordings but this studio recording surpasses them. In every respect a superb set.

Bird’s Best Recordings
The sessions Parker recorded for Dial, Savoy and the Norman Granz labels (39) contain the best he had to give, and that was a lot. Besides these studio recordings there are the live recordings(40) and for the insatiable collector “The Complete Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker”, available as a seven-CD set or 10 LPs. (41) Of the live recordings I mention the “Birdland Broadcasts” and the legendary “Massey Hall Concert” (May 15th 1953) in Toronto, Canada.(42) The latter concert, presented by the record company as “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever”, was indeed – as far as the solo performances are concerned – on a high level, but was regrettably not representative for Parker’s playing at that time. His way of living began to demand a heavy toll. His conduct during performances was often coarse; in 1951 his addictions to drugs and alcohol caused problems with his “cabaret card”, the document that musicians and entertainers needed to work in New York City nightclubs. According to James Patrick, Parker’s cabaret license was probably reinstated in autumn 1953.(43) However, Ken Vail states Charlie Parker appearances in broadcasts from Birdland in September and November 1952.(44)

The Last Years
In 1950 Parker moved in with Chan Richardson.(45) They had two children, a daughter Pree, born in 1951 and a son Baird born a year later. The family also included Kim, Chan’s daughter from a previous marriage. After Pree’s death in March 1954 Parker was inconsolable. His drinking became excessive. After two suicide attemps he was committed, on his own initiative, in August 1954 to the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He was discharged after ten days. In the meantime a European tour was planned. A Dutch press-release announced: Saturday the 9th of October impresario Lou van Rees brings the first great American all-colored show, with participation of Illinois Jacquet and his orchestra, singer Sarah Vaughan and the renowned saxophonist Charlie Parker.(46) Performances were to be both in The Hague and Amsterdam. Many jazz lovers – among them Piet Koster – bought a ticket, but Bird did not turn up and never played in the Netherlands.
Parker’s last public engagement was on March 5th, 1955, at Birdland. He died seven days later in the apartment of his friend Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, known to her many musician friends as Nica. At least three different stories are told about his death.(47) According to the most widely accepted version, Parker arrived on March 9th at the apartment of “Nica” at Manhattan’s Stanhope Hotel. He was clearly very ill and began to vomit blood. A doctor was called who wanted to move him to a hospital immediately. Parker refused and it was decided he should stay with the baroness. The doctor warned the baroness that Parker had stomach ulcers and cirrhosis of the liver and might die at any time. By March 12th, Parker’s health seemed good enough to allow him to sit up and watch television. That evening, while watching Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s show, he was laughing at a comedy routine. His laughter turned to a cough and in a moment he was dead.(48)
Bird’s funeral service took place at the Abyssinian Baptist Church on 138th Street. The pallbearers included Leonard Feather, Teddy Reig, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Lennie Tristano, Louis Bellson and Charlie Shavers. Later the body was flown to Kansas City for burial.(49)

Bird Lives!
For many jazz lovers – among them Piet Koster and myself – Bird is the unchallenged Grand Master of the alto saxophone and the creator of a new kind of music. Music that still surprises us – no matter how often we hear it. Anyone who did not personally experience the forties and fifties, will have difficulty in understanding what a new Charlie Parker record meant in an era that – certainly in my Dutch environment – was not artistically exciting. In contrast to Armstrong in the fifties, Parker did not play in an idiom that wanted to enhance the possibilities of popular dance music. Bird has contributed – in spite of, or perhaps even through, his Bohemian way of life – to the fact that jazz got to be considered a serious art form. Much has been written about Charlie Parker’s life, and his music has been studied thoroughly.(50) I am in complete agreement with the following quotation by James Patrick with which he rounds off:

“Still, any earnest attempt to describe Parker’s art ends with a shrug. Bird’s music is so well made, his manipulation of melody, harmony, and rhythm so unified, and the emotional effect so profound that no single interpretation seems sufficient or even the best path to its understanding. Among the millions of words written about Charlie Parker, Bird’s own explanation may be the most useful: ‘It’s just music. It’s playing clean and looking for the pretty notes’.”(51)

Bird gave himself rather too little time for such a quest. What is preserved on acoustic reproduction material – more than 1500 recordings – you find described here extensively and documented accurately.


Quoted Sources

DeVeaux (1997)
DeVeaux, Scott. The Birth of Bebop – A Social and Musical History. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1997.

DeVeaux (2000)
DeVeaux, Scott. “The Advent of Bebop”. In The Oxford Companion to Jazz ed. by Bill Kirchner. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 292-304.

Giddins (1987)
Giddins, Gary. Celebrating Bird The Triumph of Charlie Parker. New York: Beech Tree Books/William Morrow, 1987.

Gillespie and Lees (1961)
Gillespie, Dizzy with Gene Lees. “The Years with Yard”. In Down Beat, May 25, 1961, and in Woideck (1998), 161-167.

Gioia (1997)
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Gitler (1997)
Giller, Ira. “Charlie Parker and the Alto Saxophonists”. In Woideck (1998), 23-58.

Harrison (1960)
Harrison, Max. Charlie Parker. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc., 1961.

Koch (1988)
Koch, Lawrence O. Yardbird Suite A Compendium of the Music and Life of Charlie Parker. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988.

Levin and Wilson (1949)
Levin, Michael and John S. Wilson. “No Bop Roots in Jazz: Parker”. In Down Beat, September 9, 1949, and in Woideck (1998), 69-79.

Martin (1996)
Martin, Henry. Charlie Parker and Thematic Improvisation. Studies in Jazz, No. 24. Lanham, Md and London: Institute of Jazz Studies Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey and The Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Patrick (1988)
Patrick, James. “Charlie Parker”. In The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. New York: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music; London: The Macmillan Press, 1988, vol. 2, 286-291.

Patrick (2000)
Patrick, James. “Charlie Parker”. In The Oxford Companion to Jazz ed. by Bill Kirchner. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 316-331.

Ramey (1955)
Ramey, Gene. “My Memories of Bird Parker”. In Melody Maker. May 28, 1955, and in Woideck (1998), 135-139.

Reig I Berger (1990)
Reig, Teddy, with Edward Berger. Reminiscing in Tempo: The Life and Times of a Jazz Hustler. Studies in Jazz no. 10. Metuchen, NJ and London: Scarecrow Press and Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, 1990.

Reisner (1962)
Reisner, Robert George. BIRD: The Legend of Charlie Parker. New York: Citadel Press, 1962; reprint, London: Quartet Books. 1974, 1975.

Russell (1972)
Russell. Ross. Bird Lives! The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker. New York: Charterhouse; London: Quartet Books, 1973.

Shapiro and Hentoff (1955)
Shapiro, Nat and Nat Hentoff (ed). Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya, The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made lt. New York: Rinehart & Co., 1955; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1966.

Vail (1996)
Vail, Ken. Bird’s Diary: The Life of Charlie Parker 1945-1955. Chessington, Surrey, England: Castle Communications, 1996.

Woideck (1996)
Woideck, Carl. Charlie Parker: His Music and Life. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1996.

Woideck (1998)
Woideck, Carl (ed). The Charlie Parker Companion: Six Decades of Commentary. New York: Schirmer Books, 1998.


[1] Writers have often referred to him as Charles Christopher Parker, but his mother clearly stated that he had no middle name (Reisner (1962), 167 and Woideck (1996), 243, Chapter 1, note 1).
[2] Patrick (2000), 317.
[3] According to Koch (1988), 333, Chapter One, note 1, most authorities agree on this maiden name. Giddins (1987), 26, sticks to Boxley or Boxely. A birth certificate for Charlie Parker gives her name as Bailey, and Charlie’s passport application says Boyley or Bayley.
[4] Giddins (1987), 30.
[5] For a thorough and original observation on the role played by Coleman Hawkins in the swing era, see DeVeaux (1997), 35-71.
[6] Ramey (1955) in Woideck (1998), 136.
[7] Giddins (1987), 42. According to Doris Sydnor and Chan Richardson (resp. Parker’s third and fourth wife) he had his first hard drug experience at the age of fifteen ( 1935). Leonard Feather paraphrased Parker as saying that the saxophonist experimented with “alcohol, pills and other stimulants … as early as 1932” (Woideck (1996), 7-8).
[8] Levin and Wilson (1949) in Woideck (1998), 79.
[9] Levin and Wilson (1949) in Woideck (1998), 79. The excerpt above was reprinted in Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff’s oral history compilation, Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya (Shapiro and Hentoff (1955), 354). Quoting Scott DeVeaux (DeVeaux (1997), 189): “To heighten the impression that the book was (as its subtitle claimed) “the story of jazz as told by the man who made it,” all the material was presented in the first person. Accordingly, the entire passage, including the technical explanation, was put in Parker’s voice.” The end of that widely known passage runs as follows: “ … I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes, I could play the thing I’d been hearing. I came alive” (Shapiro and Hentoff (1955), 354). Scott DeVeaux concludes: “The last sentence – culled, apparently, from opening of the original excerpt – substitutes effectively for the rather pedestrian ‘and bop was born,’ and adds an irresistible touch to what is now taken, on Parker’s own testimony, to be the ‘great epiphany’ (Giddins (1987), 54) in his career.” (DeVeaux (1997), 189). On this point Carl Woideck does not hold a strong view. In his opinion it is also possible that the Shapiro version is based on Parker’s actual statements (possibly tape-recorded). See Woideck (1996), 17 and 246, note 66, and Woideck (1998), 69. I think Scott DeVeaux produced very strong arguments.
[10] Introduction Carl Woideck on Jay McShann Interview by Bart Becker, in Woideck (1998), 139.
[11] Levin and Wilson (1949) in Woideck (1998),73.
[12] For an absorbing book, containing profound observations on the birth of bebop, the reader is referred to DeVeaux (1997) as well as Scott DeVeaux’s contribution to The Oxford Companion to Jazz (DeVeaux (2000)).
[13] Giddins (1987), 71. According to Robert Reisner Geraldine Scott said after Parker’s death: “… He gave me the habit, so I might as well have the horn.” (Reisner (1962), 25)
[14] Gillespie and Lees (1961) in Woideck (1998),164-165.
[15] Recorded were amongst others “Tiny’s Tempo”, a ‘swing-oriented’ blues by Grimes. Koch (1988), 45, about this recording session: “The Grimes date readily show the transition that was taking place in jazz during the early Forties. Parker is matched with players who are firmly rooted in the ‘swing’ tradition of the preceeding era, and it is interesting to hear the difference of conception, especially rhythmically, on familiar improvisational frames.”
[16] Recorded were amongst others “Slam Slam Blues” and “Congo Blues”. Koch (1988), 58, about this recording session: “All in all, the date was a successful blending of the old and the new, and anyone hearing these sides must admire the ideas, the technique, and musical blending ability of all players present.”
[17] About “Koko” Koch (1988), 66, writes: “On the second take, Davis lays out completely and Parker plays one of the greatest solos in the history of jazz. Bird’s two choruses present the ultimate in flowing ideas, flawless execution, and cohesion of thoughts. The ideas seem to explode from his mind and through his fingers with rapid-fire precision. This is one Parker record that must be present in any jazz collection.” See also Patrick (2000), 325 and Reig / Berger (1990), 19.
[18] Woideck (1998), 266. Levin and Wilson (1949) in Woideck (1998), 76, mention as marriage-date November 18 1945. Carl Woideck underlines that 1948 is correct (Woideck (1996), 37 , and 248, note 138).
[19] Giddins (1987), 90 and 109.
[20] A complete solo-transcription in Woideck (1996), 234-236.
[21] Giddins (1987), 92. See also Fatrick (2000), 325-326.
[22] Koch (1988), 78-82.
[23] For details, see amongst others Gitler (1997) in Woideck (1998), 40; Gioia (1997), 218; Harrison (1960), 37-41; Giddins (1987), 93; Vail (1996), 19-21.
[24] I mention this 78 rpm record – still in my possession on the Esquire label – because it was my first Parker record. I was madly enthusiastic and I played “Cool Blues” over and over again. To be honest I was also impressed by “Bird’s Nest”, but did not realize in the beginning, that it was based on “I Got Rhythm”.
[25] Here too a personal note. Piet Koster discovered, that my 78 rpm disc with “Cheers” and “Carvin’ the Bird” differed from the version in his possession. This way we learned about “alternate takes”. Piet investigated this thoroughly and I suppose that shortly afterwards the idea for a Parker discography was born. And who said “Cheers”, when toasting at that time, expected from his opposite the answer “Carvin’ the Bird”.
[26] For a complete solo-transcription and thorough analysis of both takes, see Martin (1996), 71-82.
[27] Koch (1988), 116.
[28] Harrison (1960), 43-44.
[29] Koch (1988), 98-138.
[30] See amongst others the profound analysis by Carl Woideck (Woideck (1996). 153-159) and his complete transcription in Woideck (1996), 237-239
[31] Patrick (2000), 327.
[32] Koch (1988), 139-157.
[33] Koch (1988), 147.
[34] Koch (1988), 164
[35] Koch (1988), 167.
[36] I refer to Carl Woideck’s analyse and solo transcription (Woideck (1996), 181-185 and 240-241). See also Martin (1996), 82-93.
[37] Koch (1988), 168, containing part of Don Heckman’s article “Bird in flight” (Down Beat, March 11th, 1965) which has an analysis of “Just Friends”.
[38] Koch (1988), 234.
[39) Granz established two record labels, Clef (1946) and Norgran (1953); later he bought all rights to his previous recordings and formed a new company, Verve, in 1956.
[40] At the time I bought Parker’s live recordings as a 22-LP set, called “BIRDBOX”, an Italian production entitled “Charlie Parker: Live and private recordings in chronological order”.
[41] Dean Benedetti, an alto player from California, followed Parker around the country, most often by Greyhound bus, just to capture his every note on a wire recorder. For Benedetti I refer to Russell (1972) 1-25.[42] For details see amongst others Russell (1972), 311-312 and for a musical analysis see Koch (1988), 242-243.
[43] Patrick (1988), 287.
[44] Vail (1996), 114 and 116.
[45) According to Reisner (1962), 240 and Gitler (1997) in Woideck (1998), 52, they married in July 1950. However, Carl Woideck himself in his “chronology” does not think there was a legal marriage (Woideck (1998), 267). The latter entry seems the most probable as Chan did not inherit anything after Parker’s death. See Reisner (1962), 370 and Koch (1988), 261.
[46] Press release in “Rhythme”, a Dutch monthly for modern music, September 1954.
[47] Woideck (1996), 49-50.
[48] Russell (1972), 348-358; Reisner (1962), 131-135; Vail (1996), 173-174; Koch (1988), 259;
Gitler (1997) in Woideck (1998), 56-58.
[49] Vail (1996), 175.
[50] Special mention deserve Koch (1988), Martin (1996) and Woideck (1996). On the authority of James Patrick I also recommend: Thomas Owen‘s Charlie Parker: Techniques of Improvisation (1974), see Patrick (2000), 330. As to Parker in the early forties DeVeaux (1997) is also recommended.
[51] Patrick (2000), 331.