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COMMENTARY 2020: Charlie Parker Centennial

Charlie “Bird” Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920 and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri – his artistic innovations would ultimately lead him to worldwide musical acclaim.

This undisputed and universal acknowledgement as an innovator and musical genius continues to the present.


“A father of bebop, he has continued to influence generations of musicians, and sparked the fire of one of the most important and successful American artistic movements.”

 — PBS, American Masters, Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker


Charlie Parker is my personal favorite jazz artist and improvising musician. He is the favorite among many others as well.

One hundred years ago this month, Mr. Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas. Yes, Kansas. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri as a young child and grew up there.

Charlie Parker Memorial Monument
at 18th & Vine in Kansas City, Missouri

Many people get confused about the fact that there are two KCs.

Mr. Parker changed jazz music and the conceptual playing of it on every instrument three quarters of a century ago.

Despite the global pandemic of 2020, his influence continues.

With Count Basie Orchestra Guitarist, Will Matthews
outside of the historic Mutual Musicians Foundation

Mr. Parker’s influence upon jazz is arguably felt in the same manner that the musics of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms continue to bring grace and substance to classical music over the centuries.

If you play jazz, listen to jazz, write about jazz, study jazz, compose jazz, you can’t escape dealing with Charlie Parker’s music.

My last great jazz mentor after my family had returned home to my native KC area to live when I was already in my middle 40s was the late Ahmad Alaadeen. Alaadeen once said to me that: “Bird” belonged to “the ages.” He didn’t only belong to Kansas City or even one family anymore. He was universal.

I thought that was the best descriptor I’d ever heard from anyone.

We who play “jazz” music celebrate Bird every time we play.

Safely support the KC centennial spotlight even if only in spirit.


Photo is courtesy of Robert Graham.

HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPH: Charlie “Bird” Parker Memorial, dedication ceremony March 27, 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri. Art Jackson (second from left), Eddie Saunders, Bobby Watson and Ahmad Alaadeen were among several musicians who gathered to celebrate the initial unveiling of the memorial.