how did charlie bird parker die

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Miles Davis was almost always in tune. However, a straightforward sentence rather than a tumbling waterfall of melody was one of the greatest notes ever played by the genius who spent a glorious fifty years redefining what could be wrought from the trumpet. He once said, “You can tell the history of jazz in four words.” “‘Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker. ’”.

Though the icon underplayed his own status in the cultural pantheon—his own Kind Of Blue is among the best recorded statements of the 20th (or, really, any) century—his statement still has weight. And it has echoed loudly this week.

Nobody could ever claim that the gregarious, optimistic, and charismatic Armstrong has been forgotten. Nor, it must be stressed, has Parker. However, it can be more difficult to define the latter, who is a far more complicated and troubled character than the legendary Satchmo. In New Orleans, one can hardly move without encountering relics of Armstrong’s heyday; however, Parker’s legacy remains somewhat obscure, as the man was often inclined to do.

New York City, 1948 (Alamy)

Today is his 60th birthday. His death was as sudden and incredibly self-inflicted as any that Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain would experience in the future.

Parker was born in August 1920 and lived until the end of 1955, passing away at the age of 34 from cirrhosis-related liver damage rather than pneumonia.

Two decades of heroin abuse had also ravaged him. Parker’s embrace of the drug was particularly enthusiastic, even though it was a common element of the US jazz scene in the 1940s and 1950s, drawing Davis into its clutches for a while and contributing to John Coltrane’s death. At first, the coroner performing his autopsy believed he was looking at a 60-year-old man.

Nevertheless, despite all the darkness that surrounded him, Parker’s music—which is now what defines his legend—is warm, bright, extremely talented, and genuinely revolutionary.

Originally from Kansas City, he established himself in New York before turning nineteen and leaving the hazy heartlands of America for the hard metropolitan certainties of the Big Apple. He played a key role in the creation of bebop, a new, fast-paced, frequently difficult form of jazz that, in the early 1940s, mostly originated in the city as a counter to swing’s widespread appeal. Parker’s unique saxophone style was often heard in the clubs of Harlem, where this heady rhythmic soup was on the boil. Parker’s style drew blues and even latin influences into its rich textures.

Sometimes at night, his talent would blend with the expert trumpet notes of Dizzy Gillespie, a “supergroup” before the term was coined. His skill has also persisted into the twenty-first century, as evidenced by compositions like Yardbird Suite and Bird Gets The Worm, the latter of which moves at an astounding 340 beats per minute.

The Charlie Parker Residence (Alamy)

It can be a somber endeavor to try to emulate a musical icon whose passing casts a shadow over the brightness of their life. It’s hard to stroll through Graceland’s gaudy color-blocked carpets and not see Elvis Presley as the overweight caricature he’d turned into instead of the swivel-hipped, boundary-pushing rock ‘n’ roll icon he once was. Because the Strawberry Fields memorial is located so close to the location of John Lennon’s murder, stopping by there can seem a bit like you’re interrupting a funeral.

And that’s what happens when you pursue Parker’s ghost across New York. Of course, the location of the final ceremonies is there, amidst Fifth Avenue’s grandeur. He passed away in his friend Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s suite at the Stanhope Hotel, which at the time was home to jazz writer and bebop enthusiast.

The building no longer has this purpose. In 2005, it was transformed into apartments, and it is currently listed as “995 Fifth Avenue.” If this was a sane address for an insalubrious death at the time, it is even more so today. With the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and other artists on its walls, right next door, Central Park appears to be at its greenest across the street.

But The Stanhope was known for its cabaret and live music, so it wasn’t all that spiritually or physically apart from the East Village.

Parker and his common-law spouse Chan Berg resided here from 1950 to 1954, sharing a ground-floor apartment at 151 Avenue B. This brownstone townhouse knows its position in jazz lore. Two years after the relevant section of Avenue B, between East Seventh and 10th Streets, was renamed “Charlie Parker Place,” it was added to America’s National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

This is a thoughtful and considerate tip of the hat.

But the siren call comes from above Central Park. Harlem was Parker’s – and jazz’s – domain. The last ten years have seen a significant amount of change, with gentrification sweeping north up Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, smartening some areas of the neighborhood and adding a soporific coffee-shop glaze to others. The last sixty years have seen significant changes as well. Clark Monroe’s Uptown House, for example, is no more. Indeed, it switched address as long ago as 1943. At its previous location, 198 West 134th Street, not much remains to indicate that Parker’s saxophone moved men and mountains.

Another landmark, though, remains. Minton’s Playhouse was one of the twentysomething Parker’s proving grounds. Here, he engaged Gillespie in a duel while bebop discovered its shape and its urgency.

A focal point for the genre, it was opened by the saxophonist Henry Minton in 1938, and would thrive for the next 20 years. Then came the slump – a steady decline through the Sixties, its closure in 1974, three decades behind rust and shutters. And a revival – the club opened again in 2006. It stands at 206 West 118th Street (001 212 243 2222; – now as plain ‘Minton’s’.

Both its look and service have been refined; one imagines that the hard-bitten Parker would balk at a menu featuring haute cuisine like a grilled venison burger with blackberry onion jam (which costs $26/£17). But once you pass through the entrance, you’ll find yourself in a location that’s just as essential to New York’s musical soul as the nearby Apollo Theater or the regrettably closed CBGB in Bowery.

Robert Grahams sculpture of Charlie Parker in Kansas City (Alamy)

Parker lingers elsewhere. He is laid to rest in Blue Summit, Missouri’s Lincoln Cemetery, which was chosen primarily by his mother and has little to do with his

There are, though, heartfelt tributes in this distant city of his birth. His grave lies five miles east of the American Jazz Museum (1616 East 18th Street; 001 816 474 8463;, which charts the role of this twin-state metropolis in the jazz story. Around the corner on Vine Street, Parker is present but seemingly oblivious to his surroundings – the eyes closed on an 18ft bronze imagining of his head, cast by the sculptor Robert Grahakansim in 1999. The words chiselled into the plinth, ‘Bird Lives’ refer to his nickname – ‘Yardbird’ – as well as his most fondly remembered tune.

He drifts beyond borders too. If you ever find yourself in Toronto, wander to its Garden District, where Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street; 001 416 872 4255; can claim a groove in the Parker narrative. A polite structure in red brick, it is no tiny back-street venue, nor a specialist jazz club. Indeed, Canada’s current pop ‘heartthrob’ Justin Bieber staged a Christmas show here as recently as 2011.

But Parker has trodden its boards too. He and Dizzy Gillespie performed here on May 15, 1953. Due to a Rocky Marciano boxing match that night, it drew a relatively small crowd, but it would go down in history as the landmark live album Jazz At Massey Hall on vinyl. Additionally, it would be the final confirmed meeting between him and Gillespie. You might be able to hear the harmony of a trumpet and saxophone if you pay close attention.

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Four landmark US jazz clubs

Apart from Minton’s, these places continue to carry Charlie Parker’s legacy.

Village Vanguard – New York (178 Seventh Avenue South; 001 212 255 4037;

The Village Vanguard, a pillar of New York culture, has been located in Greenwich Village since 1935 and has only presented jazz concerts there since 1957. Miles Davis performed here. Four nights in 1961 saw the recording of John Coltrane for future generations.

Blue Note Jazz Club – New York (131 West Third Street; 001 212 475 8592;

Despite being relatively new—it was added to the Greenwich map in 1981—the Blue Note has become a highly regarded jazz venue. Its Sunday brunches are always popular.

The Blue Note Jazz Club (Alamy)

Bohemian Caverns – Washington DC (2001 11th Street NW; 001 202 299 0800;

Originally opened as Club Caverns in 1926, this musical haven was the beating heart of U Street during the era when this lengthy drag was referred to as “Black Broadway.” Duke Ellington played regularly. After closing in 1968, it reopened thirty years later as the American capital began to change.

Preservation Hall – New Orleans (726 St Peter Street; 001 504 522 2841;

Built to be a jazz hotbed in a city that claims the genre as its own, this seemingly run-down shack in the French Quarter opened its doors as recently as 1961. Nightly shows at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm.

Parker did not start to get the recognition he deserved until after his tour of Europe. When Parker visited Paris in 1949, he was treated like a cult figure. His travels throughout Europe also inspired him to compose more and add backing strings for recordings and performances. But as ongoing demands on his life and career grew, he collapsed, drinking excessively, acting strangely, and even losing his right to enter the storied 52nd Street club “Birdland,” which bears his name. But one thing persisted all this time: Parker’s playing maintained the same level of technical mastery and emotional resonance that had made him legendary.

He had just started to play the saxophone at the age of eleven. He was spearheading a modern jazz music revolution at the age of twenty. He died at the age of 34 from years of drug and alcohol abuse. Charlie “Yardbird” Parker is regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest musical innovators today. Known as the “father of bebop,” he ignited the spark that led to one of the most significant and prosperous artistic movements in American history and influenced countless musicians.

Charlie Parker was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, just across the river from his birthplace of Kansas City, Kansas, in 1920. At the age of twelve, he was participating in local dance hall combos and the high school marching band. That’s when he became acquainted with the fresh jazz sounds. The young Parker frequented the clubs in Kansas City, where he went to see each upcoming musician. Jimmy Dorsey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, and Louis Armstrong were among his early heroes.

Miles Davis, the trumpeter, drummer Kenny Clarke and Max Roach, and now-famous pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell were also sowing the seeds of modern jazz, or “bebop,” as the new style came to be known. All of them frequently worked with Parker on recordings and in the vibrant 52nd Street clubs, which served as the mid-1940s jazz hub. Parker’s ability to compose music went beyond his remarkable technical prowess; he rejected the four- and eight-bar jazz standards in favor of fluid yet forceful solos.

Parker initially struggled to find work in New York, but while performing with Jay McShann’s band, he started to hone his fiercely unique solo style. He became well-known quickly, and Dizzy Gillespie and the other band members persuaded Earl Hines to hire him. Gillespie and Parker became close friends and collaborators. Gillespie recollected, “That’s where we both flourished, in New York.” After splitting from Hines, the two joined Billy Eckstine’s group, where they could continue experimenting more.


Did Charlie Parker have any children?

A devoted father, Parker doted over his children with Chan: a daughter Pree, son Baird and her daughter Kim.

Did someone throw a cymbal at Charlie Parker?

A young Charlie Parker was attempting to play an improvised solo, but lost track of the chord changes; as a sign of contempt, Jones threw a cymbal from his drum kit onto the floor near Parker’s feet to get him to leave the stage.

What did John Coltrane die of?

Liver tumor
John Coltrane was a major innovator of avant-garde jazz in the 1960s and yet he passed away at 41 years of age in 1967 from hepatitis B and hepatocellular carcinoma.