According to Frederick J. Spencer, MD*, Charlie Parker died from lobar pneumonia on the 12th of March 1955 in the apartment of the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter in the Stanhope Hotel, New York City. He was 34 years old.
Born in 1920 in Wyandotte County, Kansas, the saxophonist Charlie ‘Yardbird’ or ‘Bird’ Parker emerged onto the jazz scene at the end of the Second World War while Big Band or ‘Swing’ was at the peak of its popularity. He was at the vanguard of a new style of jazz curtly titled ‘Bebop’, which became the foundation of modern jazz. Charlie Parker revolutionised the musical establishment, combining complex melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic forms, while displaying a complete mastery of the saxophone. Although Parker’s innovations have become part of the jazz lexicon and popular music, by the end of the 1940s he remained relatively unknown outside jazz circles. Most of the public never celebrated the young saxophone artist from Kansas City during his life and only learned of his role as a giant among modern jazz pioneers after his death in 1955.
D.H.Lawrence, in the poem Song of a Man Who Has Come Through said of the artist's creative process:
"Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!"
These lines are very apt in discussing the life of Charlie Parker. The paradox of Parker's creativity juxtapposed with his self-destructiveness will probably never be fully understood. The channel through which his creativity was realised, while bordering on genius, was also influential in destroying him.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of Parker's birth, his influence still inspires new generations of musicians to carefully study their instruments, listen to the recordings and wonder at the mastery, technique and creativity of this troubled man of jazz. The pages on this site have attempted to gather facts about this enigmatic figure and dispel many of the more colourful stories and myths. Currently, the site focuses on the beginning and end of Parker's life. The years from 1940 to his death are not currently included on the site as this period of his life is very much a 'muddied track' and have been covered in greater detail elsewhere. It is hoped that Bird Lives may eventually include these years.
*Jazz and Death: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats. Frederick J. Spencer, MD. University of Mississippi Press. 2002