The Chicagoan: Bird Lives!
Mythologies die hard. The witness to Charlie Parker’s death heard a clap of thunder at the moment of his passing. The companion of his last years remains in spiritual contact with him after more than 30 years. His childhood sweetheart and first wife continues to hear his music as nothing more nor less than the “story of our lives together,” though all his recorded music and innovations postdated their relationship. Countless musicians tell their own stories in terms of Parker’s influence on them, as if they had been dawdling contentedly down one path until they heard his call and abruptly about-faced. Such testimonies of veneration and awe, shot through with religious symbology, suggest the extent to which Parker’s posthumous life is clouded with desire and romance. The deification did not begin with his death. Parker enjoyed remarkably little renown during his short life, yet he was faithfully attended by disciples and hagiographers—musicians, critics, and a coterie of enthusiasts drawn mostly though not exclusively from the fractious, defensive world of jazz, inspired by his music to a voluble rapture that finds comfort in the elaborations of hyperbole, allegory, myth.