Charlie Parker: Jazz Icon

Learn all about Charlie “Bird” Parker, the Kansas City-born musician who became one of the most well-known jazz artists in America, with these books at the Library.

Books | Films | Music CDs

Related event:
Meet the Past: Charlie Parker, August 25, 2009


Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker
By Brian Priestley
Priestley offers insight into Parker's career, beginning as a teenager single-mindedly devoted to mastering the saxophone through his death at 34 in such wretched condition that the doctor listed his age as 53.

 The Legend of Charlie Parker book jacket

Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker
By George Reisner
For this first full-length reminiscence, Reisner interviewed eighty-one of Parker's friends, relatives, and fellow performers. From Charlie Mingus, one of the few real innovators since Bird, and Dizzy Gillespie, whom Parker once called “the other half of my heart,” to jazz historian Rudi Blesh and Parker's mother, each remembers Bird in his or her own special way.

Yardbird Suite: A Compendium of the Music and Life of Charlie Parker
By Lawrence Koch
A comprehensive study of jazz great Charlie Parker, including details of record dates, more than 200 musical illustrations, and biographical material arranged chronologically and linked with Parker's recordings. The "Bird Stories" are all here, from Parker's Kansas City roots to his untimely death, as well as the seminal journal article on Parker's music, "Ornithology" that appeared in the Journal of Jazz Studies.

Bird Lives! The High Life & Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker
By Ross Russell
This work on Charlie Parker depicts the saxophonist-composer as an artist while placing him within the context of his time.

Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker
By Gary Giddins
Written by a jazz columnist for the Village Voice, this book provides a complete biography and portrait of this influential musician.

Goin' to Kansas Citybook jacket

Goin' to Kansas City
By Nathan W. Pearson, Jr.
The great bands of the Kansas City era drew on many styles to create a distinctive music that was among the finest expressions of swing and laid the groundwork for modern jazz. Interviews and narrative combine in this intimate view of the development of an American music center from the mid-1920s through the late 1930s.

Kansas City and All That's Jazz
By the Kansas City Jazz Museum
In the '20s, '30s, and '40s, Kansas City's 18th and Vine district was a hopping place, filled with colorful clubs, energetic and sensuous dance, and all-night jam sessions. Through artifacts and memorabilia of major Kansas City-based musicians from the 1920s to the 1960s – as well as other jazz greats, such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong – readers get a unique perspective on jazz as it developed in the United States.

Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop - A History
By Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs
In this lively history, Driggs and Haddix range from ragtime to bebop and from Bennie Moten to Charlie Parker to capture the golden age of Kansas City jazz. Readers will find a colorful portrait of old Kaycee itself, back then a neon riot of bars, gambling dens, and taxi dance halls.

Related Article & Resources:
Bird Lives” – This Month In KC History article about Charlie Parker


Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker (1987, documentary)
This documentary about the life of Charlie Parker features film clips, silent footage, and interviews with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and many others.

The Last of the Blue Devils (1980, documentary)
This documentary tells the story of Kansas City music in the twenties and thirties, when this Midwestern city acquired an intense concentration of nightlife. It includes performances by, and interviews with, Count Basie and his orchestra, Bennie Motten and his orchestra, Joe Turner, Jay McShann, Charlie Parker, and the Oklahoma Blue Devils.

Jazz: Dedicated to Chaos, 1940-1945 (2000, documentary)
Episode seven of Ken Burns’ documentary series features jazz in the early forties. When America enters WWII in 1941, swing becomes a symbol of democracy and entertainers like Dave Brubeck, Glenn Miller, and Artie Shaw take their music to the armed forces overseas. In New York, Billie Holiday is unofficial queen despite a growing addiction to narcotics. Duke Ellington, assisted by the gifted young arranger, Billy Strayhorn, brings his music to ever-greater heights. After dark, a small underground of gifted young musicians led by the trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonists Charlie Parker and Ben Webster begin to develop a new fast and intricate way of playing, developing a new music called bebop.

Jazz: Risk, 1945-55 (2000, documentary)
Episode eight of Ken Burns’ documentary series features jazz in the late-forties and early-fifties. During this time jazz splinters into different camps: cool and hot, East and West, traditional and modern. One by one, the big bands leave the road, but Duke Ellington keeps his band together, while Louis Armstrong puts together a small group, the "All-Stars." Promoter Norman Granz insists on equal treatment for every member of his integrated troupes on his Jazz at the Philharmonic Tours. Meanwhile, bebop musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker are creating some of the most inventive jazz ever played but a devastating narcotics plague sweeps through the jazz community, ruining lives and changing the dynamics of performance.

Bird (1988, feature film)
Jazz saxophonist Charlie Bird Parker (Forest Whitaker) lives fast and self-destructs, dead at 34 in 1955. Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Music CDs

Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve

Now’s the Time: The Revolutionary Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker Plays Standards

Bop: Bird's Best Bop on Verve 

Book descriptions provided by BookLetters.