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Music History Charlie Parker Took Jazz in a New Direction

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					Music History: Charlie Parker Took Jazz in a New Direction
Written by Vivian Bournazian

02 July 2005

People in America — Download MP3

I'm Shirley Griffith.

And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, People in America. Today, we tell
about one of America's greatest jazz musicians, Charlie Parker. He influenced the direction of jazz
music during his short lifetime. His influence continues today.

Charlie Parker forever changed the performance and writing of jazz music. He developed a new
style5 of jazz called bebop. It was different from the dance, or swing, style5 that was popular for

Performers of bebop left the traditional2 musical melody and played a song freely, with the music
and rhythm that was felt at the time. So, the same song could be played in a different way each time
it was performed.

Charlie Parker said: "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live
it, it won't come out of your horn.”

Charlie Parker was born August, twenty-ninth, nineteen twenty, in the middle western state of
Kansas. He had his first music lessons in the local public schools. His mother bought him a
saxophone in nineteen thirty-three.

Two years later, he decided to leave school and become a professional4 musician. For the next four
years, he worked mainly in Kansas City, Missouri, where jazz music had become popular.

Charlie developed as a musician by playing with different groups in public eating and drinking
places called nightclubs. He also learned by listening to older local jazz musicians.

During this time, Charlie developed serious problems that were to affect2 him the rest of his life.
He became dependent on alcohol and the illegal1 drug, heroin.

One night in nineteen thirty-six, the young musician decided to take part in a "jam session.”
Musicians from all over Kansas City would play for fun during these unplanned performances.
These jam sessions often became musical battles. The better, the faster, the stronger, the more
creative1 musician would win.

Charlie began to play the saxophone that night. He played well for a while. But he then became lost
in the music. The drummer threw down his instrument and brought Charlie to a halt. Charlie later
said: "I went home and cried and didn't play again for three months." The incident6, however,
made Charlie work even harder to improve his playing.

In nineteen thirty-nine, Charlie went to New York City. He stayed for almost one year. He was able
to get a few paying jobs4 playing the saxophone. Most of his time, though, was spent playing in
unpaid jam sessions. It was during this time that he began to develop his own style5 of jazz.

He said later that this was when he made a big discovery. He was unhappy playing songs the same
way all the time. He thought there had to be another way to play. He said: "I could hear it
sometimes, but I couldn't play it.”

He began working on the song "Cherokee.” He used the higher notes of a chord as a melody line
and made other changes. He now could play the things he had been hearing.

It was in December, nineteen thirty-nine, that Charlie Parker made this discovery. He later said that
with it, he "came alive.” Here he is playing "Cherokee":

Charlie Parker's name first appeared in the press reports about music in nineteen forty. During the
next five years, he joined different bands. He played with the Earl Hines orchestra and the Billy
Eckstine orchestra. He also played with other young jazz musicians who helped make the new
sound known. Trumpet players Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and pianists Thelonius Monk and
Bud Powell were some of them.

Parker was considered the greatest of the bebop jazz musicians. This song, "Now's the Time," is
one of his hits during this time:

Parker's continuing drug habit was affecting2 him. He often was late for performances. Or he
missed them. He had decided he did not like the music of the big bands. He apparently4 did not
feel at ease playing with a big band, even one that followed his own musical ideas.

In nineteen forty-five, he returned to New York City. He had the idea of starting a small jazz group.
In New York, he joined Dizzy Gillespie. Their work together was among the greatest in American
music history. They enjoyed the support of younger musicians. Yet, they had to fight the criticism
of those opposed to any new development in jazz.

That year, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie took the new jazz sound to California. Charlie
continued to record and perform in Los Angeles, even after Dizzy returned to New York. It was
during this time that Parker recorded "Ornithology:"

In nineteen forty-six, Charlie Parker suffered a nervous breakdown. His dependence on heroin and
alcohol led to this severe mental5 condition. He was sent to a hospital and stayed there for six

He returned to New York City in nineteen forty-seven. The following four years are considered his
most successful. He formed his own small bands and played with other groups. He visited Europe
three times, where he recorded about half of the albums he ever made.

In July, nineteen fifty-one, New York City officials took away his right to play in nightclubs
because he used illegal1 drugs. His debts greatly increased. His physical3 and mental5 health began
to fail.

Charlie Parker was given a permit to play in New York again two years later. Jobs4, though, were
difficult to find. He finally2 got a chance to play for two nights in March, nineteen fifty-five. It was
at Birdland, the most famous jazz nightclub in New York City. Birdland had opened in nineteen
forty-nine. It was named after "Bird," as Charlie Parker's followers called him.

Parker knew those performances might be his last chance to re-claim the success he had gained
only a few years earlier. His last public appearance was on March fifth, nineteen fifty-five, at
Birdland. It was not a success. He died seven days later of a heart attack. He was thirty-four.

Charlie Parker's influence on modern jazz music continues to live. He led many artists to "play
what they hear." Jazz musicians continue to perform his music, often copying his sound and style5.
But, experts6 say, no one has ever played the same as "Bird".

This Special English program was written by Vivian Bournazian. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another People in America program on the
Voice of America.

Words:                                                 1094
Passive Sentences:                                        9.0 %
Flesch Ease of Reading:                                  68.8
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:                               6.4
GSL 2000:                                                84.6 %
AWL Vocabulary:                                           1.8 %
Proper Nouns:                                             7.1 %
Other:                                                    6.5 %

AWL Vocabulary:         Key Words:
  Sublist 1                1. alcohol
  1. create                2. bebop
  2. legal                 3. drug
                           4. drummer
  Sublist 2                5. heroin
  3. affect                6. jam
  4. final                 7. jazz
  5. tradition             8. melody
                           9. nightclubs
  Sublist 3                10. orchestra
  6. physical              11. pianist
                           12. rhythm
  Sublist 4                13. saxophone
  7. apparent              14. session
  8. job                   15. trumpet
  9. professional

  Sublist 5
  10. mental
  11. style

  Sublist 6
  12. expert
  13. incidence


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