Giant Steps: Jazz Greats
Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Growing up in Kansas City at the height of its musical fermentation, it is not surprising that Charlie "Bird" Parker became one of jazz's most influential figures. Although Parker was plagued by drug problems and personal demons throughout his life, his genius both as an alto saxophonist and as a composer redefined modern jazz and give birth to the new style of bebop. Parker could memorize an arrangement after a single reading, but nevertheless developed a playing style that revolved around long improvised solos, off-beat accents, and highly complicated melodies. Many of his compositions were unique reworkings of older songs such as "I've Got Rhythm" or "How High the Moon" that proved so popular they became jazz standards in their own right. Parker's genius made him a giant among jazz musicians, many of whom saw him as an idol. His influence was so great that 1949 saw the opening of the famous club Birdland in his honor. Although Parker died only six years later, at age thirty five, he remains one of the towering icons of modern jazz.