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Celebrate the life and times of iconic jazz musician Charlie "Bird" Parker.
Celebrate the life and times of iconic jazz musician Charlie

Charlie Parker Centennial 🎷 

Charlie Parker is one of the most iconic figures in jazz history, especially here in his hometown. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, on Aug. 29, 1920, Parker's experimental style was met with resistance during his brief lifetime. His innovations in bebop only found mainstream acceptance following his death in 1955.
This year is the 100th anniversary of his birth — and while coronavirus-related restrictions limit Bird's birthday festivities, we know a few ways you can still observe the special occasion. 🎷
1. Happy Birthday, Bird
On Saturday, Aug. 29, early birds can gather at 6:15 a.m. for a sunrise ceremony at Robert Graham's bust of Charlie Parker at 17th Street and The Paseo. 🌅

Later that morning, you can take a Charlie Parker-themed walking tour of the Kansas City Jazz District with a very special tour guide: Chuck Haddix, host of KCUR's Fish Fry! Tours last one hour, with the first starting at 9:30 a.m. and the second at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $25 per person and each tour is limited to 26 people.

And, thousands of people will end the day with KCPT's broadcast of "Bird: Not Out Of Nowhere," at 7 p.m. 📺 The premiere of this locally-produced, hour-long documentary will be supplemented by an extra hour of interviews and performances with jazz luminaries Bobby Watson, Lonnie McFadden and Logan Richardson.


These and other activities are listed here.

2. Museum Supreme
Saxophone Supreme: The Life & Music of Charlie Parker is a new exhibit at the American Jazz Museum, and an ideal introduction to the life and times of Kansas City’s famous son. The multimedia partnership between the museum and UMKC Libraries features an array of memorabilia including photographs, art, performance contracts and music. 🎵

While the Saxophone Supreme exhibit is free, admission is required if you want to see the centerpiece of the American Jazz Museum’s collection.

Kansas City paid $144,500 to acquire the white plastic saxophone 🎷 Parker played at an all-star 1954 concert in Toronto with his bebop co-conspirators Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.

📍 American Jazz Museum, 1616 E 18th St., Kansas City MO
🕒 Museum hours: Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, 12-4 p.m.
💲 $6-10, free for children 4 and under
3. Bird Lives
To his most dedicated fans in Kansas City, the whole month of August is known as Charlie Parker's birthday month. But it's not the only opportunity for locals to celebrate and appreciate his life and music.

Parker allegedly told his family he didn’t want to be buried in Kansas City. Yet he was laid to rest next to his mother in Lincoln Cemetery seven miles east of downtown. A tenor saxophone is etched on his gravestone — though Parker played alto sax. 🎷Stop and pay your respects, and you might find others doing the same.

If you're looking for a more cheerful celebration, Robert Graham’s distinctive bronze bust of Parker behind the museum complex at 17th and The Paseo is one of Kansas City’s most iconic landmarks. It's another popular site for people celebrating Bird's life.

Parker’s family frequently moved within the Kansas City area. The elegant midtown apartment at 3527 Wyandotte Street is Parker’s best-preserved childhood home. 🏠 Look for the building with a commemorative plaque and a fountain out front.

4. Sound and Vision
Though not everyone has a taste for jazz — or Parker's eccentric bebop style — it's fun to familiarize yourself with the works of an artist appreciated by so many.

Here are three of the bebop pioneer's most essential tracks:

▶ The song "Swingmatism" exemplifies the hard-driving, swinging sound of Kansas City at the tail end of Kansas City’s jazz heyday.
▶ Bird could also play the blues. "Parkers Mood" is one of his most cherished compositions.
▶ Naysayers accused Parker of killing the popularity of jazz by transforming it from dance music to a frenetic intellectual exercise. “Ornithology” is a prime example of Parker’s cerebral tendencies.

And, true Charlie Parker fans and vinyl enthusiasts will appreciate the new vinyl boxed set, The Savoy 10-inch LP Collection, which contains many of Parker's most essential recordings.

Learn more about the life of Parker with Chuck Haddix’s "Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker" and Stanley Crouch’s "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker." Both are revealing biographies offering new insights into Parker’s years in Kansas City.

And most famously, Forest Whitaker made a very convincing Parker in Clint Eastwood’s 1988 film "Bird."

 More Adventures in Kansas City

Soundscapes in the City

Join the Lyric Opera of Kansas City for an outdoor concert series starting Friday, Aug. 7 at 6:30 p.m. Enjoy a free 30-minute performance of musical theatre hits in the Lyric Opera parking lot. Learn more.
Jazz on the Lawn

Get your tickets now for Jazz on the Lawn: A Modern Picnic, on Saturday, Aug. 29. Enjoy a socially-distanced concert featuring Grand Marquis on the World War I Museum lawn. Tickets cover up to four attendees and range from $45 to $100 each. Learn more.

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Photo Credits:
1. William P. Gottlieb/Library of Congress via flickr.com
2. Bill Brownlee | KCUR

3. KCFountains.com

4. Craft Recordings

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