Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker

I’ve never been a Bird lover—for no good reason other than that his playing feels cool, detached, even saucy. It lacks the breathy soul of a Ben Webster or the warm allure of a Lester Young. In his lightning-fast runs, Bird seems trying to get somewhere but not satisfied with where he is. Was he trying to draw attention, make a noise—be somebody? My home terrain is early jazz—out of New Orleans and Chicago in the ’20s and ’30s, when swing came rolling and stomping, changes arrived like new days, and the band was the star. As the street-style Chicago guitarist Eddie Condon said of the beboppers, “They flat their fifths; we drink ours.” But in his down-home, cut-to-the-bone new book, Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker—the first of two volumes—Stanley Crouch helps me see. He quotes an old-line observer of the King Oliver Band in Chicago, talking about musicians: “You wanted to be known by your name, not ‘that n∗∗∗∗ over there.’ To be an individual was the most important thing in the world to you….Somebody would get mad at all the attention some other sumbitch was getting. He would get as green with jealousy as your finger does if you wearing a cheap ring. All he can think about is, How can I get some attention?” Now I begin to understand. We are all lonely. And if you’re black, you’re marked down. Louis Armstrong said
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Peter Gerler has written about jazz since the early 1990s. He has been published in American Legacy, DownBeat, JazzTimes, Humanities, The Boston Globe, New Orleans Gambit, Moultrie Observer, WBGO, Upbeat, www.jazz.com, www.nejazz.com, and other venues. He has presented on early jazz at Satchmo Summerfest, River Road African American Museum, Classic Jazz at Lincoln Library, Cambridge Center for Adult Education, Newton Lifetime Learning, and numerous senior facilities in the Boston area. Visit him online at www.jazztalks.com.

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