University of Michigan Press, 1998
Paperback. 291pp. musical & b&w illustrations
Saxophonist Charlie Parker (1920-1955) was one of the most innovative
and influential jazz musicians of any era. Charlie Parker: His
Music and Life opens by considering current research on Parker's
biography, laying out some of the contradictory accounts of his life,
tracing his artistic evolution and major achievements as a jazz improviser.
The musical discussions and transcribed musical examples are keyed to
compact disc timings for easy location - a feature unique to this book.
Charlie Parker (1920-55) was one of the most innovative and influential
of all jazz musicians, regardless of era. His position in jazz is analogous
to Louis Armstrong's in that both musicians advanced the music that they
had inherited with regard to melody, rhythm, and harmony, inviting all
jazz instrumentalists and composers of any era to reevaluate every aspect
of their arts....
As one of the architects of modern jazz (often called "bebop"),
Charlie Parker has had a profound effect on American music. His music
reached such a high level of melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic sophistication
that saxophonists and other instrumentalists continue to study it as both
a technical challenge and an aesthetic inspiration. The music of Parker
and his peers, once considered to be merely the artistic expression of
a revolutionary minority within an African-American musical minority,
continues to influence American music more than fifty years after bebop's
inception. Not strictly the iconoclastic movement that some critics, listeners
and musicians believed it to be, modern jazz was based in earlier jazz
styles and actually codified the "common practice" techniques
of jazz, going on to become the lingua franca of jazz....
The path of artistic discovery is always a highly personal one. During
Parker's years of development, formal college-based study of jazz was
not readily available. Despite Parker's limited opportunities for formal
instruction, we should in no way minimize the depth of musical knowledge
that he attained. He was in many ways a product of a jazz culture that
no longer exists, one rich with both older master musicians to serve as
role models and a network of countless jam sessions and jobs for experience.
In a miraculous and undefinable process, Charlie Parker's brilliant talent,
insightful study and many hours of playing music came together to form
the artist whose work this book celebrates.
This book begins with a chapter of biography that endeavors to sketch
the main events and currents of Charlie Parker's life. There are many
unclear, vague, and contradictory aspects to his life story, and I have
made every effort to present the clearest and most accurate picture when
possible and to note uncertainties and contradictions when necessary.
A chapter of introduction to his music then sets out some of the facets
upon which discussion of Parker's music is to be based.
A guided tour of the music of Charlie Parker focusing on his improvisational
art follows. It it not the purpose of this book to examine every recording
that Charlie Parker ever made; rather, a selective approach has been taken
with the goal of introducing the reader to a sampling of Charlie Parker's
most illustrative works, much like a guided tour through a retrospective
exhibition of a particular artist's work.
Readers are urged to purchase and listen to the most important Parker
recordings discussed in this book. The transcribed musical examples are
keyed to compact disc timings for easy location, and the CD sources for
the examples are found in Appendix A. Once the readers have listened to
Parker's works while following the verbal descriptions and discussion
of musical examples in the book, they will have acquired a significant
basis for appreciation of Parker's musical world. Much like going back,
alone, to visit that art exhibition, repeated listenings to the musical
examples in this book will yield new discoveries unique to the listener.
In addition, it is hoped that the appreciation gained through this guided
musical tour will help to illuminate the many other brilliant and moving
works in Charlie Parker's recorded legacy that the listener may encounter.
No technical knowledge of music is needed to enjoy the music of Charlie
Parker, and readers of this book with no training in music will gain an
understanding of Parker's music through discussion of qualities vital
to his improvisational art including his facility and virtuosity; intensity
of swing feeling; inventiveness and spontaneity; playfulness and sense
of humor; and bluesiness and poetic qualities. Many of the musical passages
discussed are keyed to compact disc timings and will be easy for the reader
to locate and play on Parker CDs. More technical in nature but still accessible
to most readers will be descriptions of Parker's music in terms of repertoire;
compositional style; rhythmic properties; accents and syncopation; vibrato
and timbre; melodic line; and harmonic vocabulary. Readers with technical
knowledge of music will of course glean even more appreciation from these
descriptions and will be especially interested in the book's transcribed
excerpts of Parker's improvised solos and the accompanying analysis of
them. It is hoped that all readers will gain greater appreciation of the
depth of the art of one of the most brilliant msucial artists of any era
or any genre, Charlie Parker.
The book contains four complete solo transcriptions:
Honey & Body; Oh, Lady Be Good; Parker's Mood; Just Friends.
CARL WOIDECK is a saxophonist and Instructor of Jazz History, University
Whatever background you bring to it, the book will likely
enrich your understanding of Parker's music, and that's as much as one
can ask of any book on the subject." - CADENCE