No musician has lived a more dramatic, more triumphant, or more tragic life than Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century.
From the moment he emerged and became a Kansas City musician in the late 1930s, to his death from dissipation in 1955, Parker personified the tortured American artist: a revolutionary performer who internalized all of popular music and blew it back through his alto saxophone in the form of a new music known as bebop-even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would dog every moment in his career, and ultimately underline his death at the age of thirty-five.
In the years since his death, Parker's life has become legend-in endless bootlegs and reissues, in the graffiti proclamation "Bird Lives!" seen worldwide to this day, in annual festivals and daily radio shows, even in the Clint Eastwood film Bird, starring Forrest Whitaker. But few writers have ventured to tell the story of Parker's life in a systematic way-until now.
In the tradition of Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Kansas City Lightning is the first in a projected two-volume life of Charlie Parker by one of our foremost writers on jazz and the cultural experience in America, Stanley Crouch. The product of decades of research, including interviews with scores of peers, collaborators, and family members, Kansas City Lightning reaches back past the legend to reveal Charlie Parker the wunderkind-the teenage boy-child, raised in the midst of the Depression in the wide-open town of Boss Tom Pendergast's Kansas City. He takes us back to his mother's drawing room, where Parker first heard music, and to concerts by the Lincoln High School Orchestra, and by the Deans of Swing, Parker's first real band. He recreates the Reno Club, at Twelfth Street and Cherry, where Parker first crossed paths with his idol Lester Young, his mentor Buster Smith, and Count Basie, the king of Kansas City blues. He follows Bird to New York and puts us in the room for the famous battles of the bands at the Savoy Ballroom, and the jumping social scene at the legendary Woodside Hotel-reawakening a thrilling time in American music nearly lost to us today.
Most powerfully, Crouch brings us into young Charlie Parker's intimate family circle, revealing the drama of his early life as a mama's boy plunged headlong into a very adult world-lured by both music and drugs, torn between his domineering mother and Rebecca Ruffin, the teenage boarder whom he would marry at sixteen.
With the musical wisdom of a lifetime jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an acclaimed social critic, and the narrative skill of a novelist at the height of his powers, Crouch brings Parker back to rich, vivid life.
- Publication Date:
- 03 / 11 / 2014
- 135 x 203mm