Bird Lives

     Today is Charlie Parker’s 94th birthday.
     Praise him with mighty praise.
     Every American schoolchild should be made to read his life history, along with those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Edison.
     I know, I know: Charlie Parker was not a nice man.
     So what? Neither were most of our presidents.
     Charlie Parker was a junkie, and he died when he was 34.
     He was also the greatest musical genius America ever produced.
     Schoolchildren should know both of those things.
     They should be required to study his life in public schools, at increasing levels of complexity, every two years or so, from the time they are 9 or 10 – the age at which many of our children start taking drugs.
     When he was famous and dying, Bird pointed at the collapsed veins on his arm and told a fellow musician: “That’s my Cadillac. That’s my house.”
     Kids should know that.
     Schoolchildren should listen to Bird’s music in music appreciation classes, along with Mozart and Beethoven and the rest of those cats.
     I know, I know: This will never happen.
     Because Americans don’t want to know their own history – not really.
     We prefer the dream.
     Actually, our kids don’t have to be subjected to Bird in class, because they hear him every day, in pale imitations – in our stupid rap music, in our supermarket Muzak, in elevators.
     Everyone plays like Bird today, because there’s no way to avoid him.
     Fortunately, in addition to hundreds of hours of Bird’s music preserved on tape, we have a few decent books about him.
     Stanley Crouch’s “Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker” is excellent, and irreplaceable. I hope Mr. Crouch lives long enough to complete his second volume.
     Gary Giddins’ “Celebrating Bird: The Triumph and Times of Charlie Parker,” is nearly as good.
     Ross Russell’s “Bird Lives: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie Parker” is acceptable.
     Lawrence Koch’s “Yardbird Suite” is a solid appraisal.
     But that’s about it – except for the many interviews, reviews and comments lost in the back pages of Downbeat, Metronome and other magazines.
     Videos and sound of Bird playing are available online. I won’t provide links to them because they are all crapped up with advertising. You can find them if you look.
     Charlie Parker’s story is the story of America: Not of black America, though it is that, but of America.
     Until the 300 million citizens of the United States learn about Charlie Parker, we won’t have learned anything at all about ourselves and our country. Not really. We’ll just be kidding ourselves.
     OK, here’s a clip of Bird playing with Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins plays first, on tenor saxophone, then Bird plays. Hank Jones on piano, Ray Brown on bass, Buddy Rich on drums.
     OK, here’s another one.
     OK, here’s another one.

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