Make a difference: Support jazz online

Support All About Jazz Your friends at All About Jazz are looking for readers to help back our website upgrade project. Of critical importance, this project will result in a vastly improved design across all devices and will make future All About Jazz projects much easier to implement. Click here to learn more about this project including donation rewards.


Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker by Charles Haddix

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker

Charles Haddix

190 Pages

ISBN: 025203791

University of Illinois Press


Charlie Parker shares with delta blues legend Robert Johnson the lack of a comprehensive and academically-sound biography. Johnson's biographical material is strewn across several books, the earliest riddled with romance and inaccuracy, periodical articles and liner notes. While at least two completed or near completed biographies by the late Stephen Calt and Mack McCormick molder in manuscript on some shelf, Steve LaVere, the keeper of all things Johnson, remains content to collect royalties on the public domain, it looks unlikely that any of this scholarship will see the light of day while these principles live and equally unlikely after they are gone.

Parker's written life legacy is no less confused than Johnson's regardless of the presence of several "biographies" and other critical writings. At first pass, Parker biographies include Dial Records' Ross Russell's The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker (Charterhouse, 1973); Robert Reisner's Bird: the Legend Of Charlie Parker (DaCapo, 1977); Gary Giddins' Celebrating Bird (Beachtree Books, 1986); Carl Woideck's Charlie Parker: His Music And Life (University of Michigan Press, 1998); Brian Priestly's Chasin' The Bird: The Life And Legacy Of Charlie Parker (Oxford Press, 2006); and now, Chuck Haddix's Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker.

Haddix's biography is a taut, short account of Parker's life, focusing on the saxophonist's physical presence throughout his brief career. Ross Russell's The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker is better with the narrative if a little wobbly on the facts and motives of the author. Haddix does address Parker's recording, addiction, and place in American musical history, but like Parker's life itself, this account seems not so much rushed as it is tethered accurately to Parker's meteoric rise, supernova reign and almost light-speed fade to twilight. This happens in a mere 190 pages. It is a fast read.

The plus side is that Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker is a well-researched and rapidly consumed book that does well to bring the uninitiated up to speed on Parker. It does a better job that previous books placing Parker in a chronological context with both his personal and public life. It largely avoids the romanticism of Russell's biography, but then suffers from being a bit dry in reading. The minus side is that Haddix's biography adds little to the Parker canon. The story has been told many times before, not necessarily better than Haddix, whose writing is fine, but the telling of the story brings it closer to the texture scripture than history. It will be an interesting comparison to be made when Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning: The Rise And Times Of Charlie Parker (Harper) is published later this year.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Good Morning Blues Book Reviews Good Morning Blues
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: January 11, 2018
Read The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums Book Reviews The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums
by Roger Crane
Published: December 19, 2017
Read Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The Politics Of Improvisation Book Reviews Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The...
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 10, 2017
Read "Jazzing: New York City's Unseen Scene" Book Reviews Jazzing: New York City's Unseen Scene
by David A. Orthmann
Published: August 29, 2017
Read "All That's Jazz" Book Reviews All That's Jazz
by Phil Barnes
Published: December 6, 2017
Read "The Free Musics by Jack Wright" Book Reviews The Free Musics by Jack Wright
by Daniel Barbiero
Published: May 10, 2017
Read "Beyond Words by John Prine" Book Reviews Beyond Words by John Prine
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: April 22, 2017
Read "David Bowie: Behind the Curtain" Book Reviews David Bowie: Behind the Curtain
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: August 20, 2017