100 years since the birth of jazz master Charlie Parker

By John Andrews
29 August 2020

Today, jazz musicians and fans throughout the world are commemorating the centenary of the birth of alto saxophonist Charles Parker, Jr. (1920–1955), among the most influential figures in jazz history.

Nicknamed “Yardbird,” and then simply “Bird,” Parker spearheaded the movement that transformed jazz into its modern form during the closing months of World War II. His subsequent career lasted less than a decade, however. Sadly, Parker passed away at 34 in a New York City hotel room, suffering from a variety of maladies associated with the cumulative effects of heroin addiction and alcoholism.

Charlie Parker in 1947 (William P. Gottlieb)

Parker was a creator of bebop, the largely improvised, small combo jazz that emerged during the first half of 1945, the spirit and innovations of which still influence modern jazz as well as more sophisticated forms of American popular music. Bebop was often challenging and difficult, meant for close listening in contrast to the large dance orchestras of the swing era that blossomed during the 1930s, before they petered out during the war years.

Parker was a brilliant and imaginative soloist at every tempo, with an arresting tone that he used to articulate rapid,