Charlie Parker, ‘Bird’, was born in Kansas City, Kansas on 29th August 1920, a hundred years ago. When he died at the tragically young age of 34, graffiti appeared scrawled on the walls of the New York metro BIRD LIVES. For jazz fans everywhere that is still the truth. It is an urban music, full of passion and excitement, and comes from a golden era in American music which can never be recaptured, although the studio and live recordings have something of the freshness and beauty of that first fine careless rapture. Here is a short poem I wrote which channels the remarks of two of the last survivors from the bebop era, the drummer Roy Haynes now aged 95, and the tenor saxophone player Sonny Rollins now aged 89.
Remembering Bird Sonny: Bird was our prophet. His time was his own time. Max would tell the pianist "Don't try to follow, wait" and a stretch further on he'd bring it back to the measure. And then it made sense. But not at first. At first few could live with him and later only the best. Roy: I was blessed to play with some of the chosen ones. They could all do it. Pres and Trane could do it, drop there right in the pocket. First they'd take you on the whirlwind tour, chords, the difficult changes the pauses and dropped beats and when you were lost they'd lock back onto the pulse. I loved that. Sonny: You have to find your own voice. Miles didn't play Dizzy or Fats, Monk went his own way. Thing is, you know when you've got it together, there's a different kind of breathing. It was Bird showed the way to my generation, gave us the keys to the kingdom.