More than to any other musician, the credit for the birth of modern jazz belongs to Charles “Yardbird” Parker–known to his friends and fans simply as “Bird.”
Parker’s virtuoso technique, melodic genius, and inspired improvisations helped launch a whole new era in jazz, an era that began with bop and culminated in the “cool” or modern jazz of the fifties. His brilliant handling of the alto saxophone inspired a generation of jazz musicians; without him, there would have been no John Coltrane, no Ornette Coleman, no jazz as we know it today.
Parker died in 1955 at the age of thirty-five. He left behind a rich legacy of musical innovation and a legend of self-destructive dissipation that made him a votive hero of the hipsters and the beat generation.
For this first full-length reminiscence, Reisner interviewed eighty-one of Parker’s friends, relatives, and fellow performers. From Charlie Mingus, one of the few real innovators since Bird, and Dizzy Gillespie, whom Parker once called “the other half of my heart,” to jazz historian Rudi Blesh and Parker’s mother, each remembers Bird in his or her own special way.
Thus from the shards and splinters of firsthand reminiscence emerges a telling mosaic of Parker’s brief but intense career: the indulgences in drugs and alcohol; the legendary bouts of lovemaking; the temperamental behavior on and off the bandstand; the jam sessions at the Harlem jazz club Minton’s Playhouse with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk; and the historic firing from Birdland, the club which took its name from this larger-than-life musician and man.