Charlie Parker (originally Charles Christopher): (1920-1955) U.S. saxophonist and composer, one of the originators of bebop and among the greatest improvisers in jazz. Born in Kansas City, Parker played with Jay McShann’s big band (1940-42) and those or Earl Hines (1942-44) and Billy Eckstine (1944) before leading his own small groups in New York. (A nickname acquired in the early 1940s, Yardbird, was shortened to Bird and used throughout his career.) Parker frequently worked with Dizzy Gillespie in the mid-1940s, making a series of small-group recordings that heralded the arrival of bebop as a mature outgrowth of the improvisation of the late swing era. His direct, cutting tone and unprecedented dexterity on the alto saxophone made rapid tempos and fast flurries of notes trademarks of bebop, and his complex, subtle harmonic understanding brought and altogether new sound to the music. Easily the most influential jazz musician of his generation, his chronic drug addiction and early death contributed to making him a tragic legend.
Excerpted/Adapted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.