Sunday, August 23, 2015

Parker Party Pooper

I didn’t expect anything to come of the provocative question I scribbled on a notecard at the first event of this year’s Charlie Parker Celebration last Thursday.  At best, I hoped panel moderator Bill McKemy would privately smirk at its impertinence.

Yet McKemy bravely selected my contribution as the final question posed at a discussion titled “Bop Lives” in the foyer of the American Jazz Museum:

“When the overwhelming majority of people don’t know about brilliant contemporary players like Miguel Zenón, Rudresh Mahanthappa or Joe Lovano, why should they care about Charlie Parker?”

The panel consisting of author and radio personality Chuck Haddix, trumpeter Clay Jenkins and jazz scholar Scott DeVeaux sat in stunned silence for several seconds after the question was posed.  A few of the 75 people at Thursday’s function- less than ten were under the age of 30- gasped at its insolence.

Haddix eventually responded with a declaration about the importance of jazz radio programming.  DeVeaux suggested that education was the key to helping the public appreciate Parker.  Jenkins said nothing.

I don’t have an adequate answer either- the question was rhetorical. 

The three saxophonists I cited recently recorded or performed stellar Parker tributes.  Their art has been roundly ignored outside of the tiny jazz echo chamber.  Witnessing mildly panicked concertgoers rush from the grounds of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival as Lovano played Parker in 2014 was a clear indication that exposure isn’t the solution.

I could formulate an optimistic response based on Kendrick Lamar’s magnificent To Pimp a Butterfly, but making the artistic link between Parker and the rapper would be a stretch.

The efforts of the organizers of the Charlie Parker Celebration are noble.   Yet until his most vital disciples attain meaningful congregations, Parker’s place in popular culture will continue to fade. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting question. I don't have an answer either but I would rather listen to Bird than Lovano anytime. For me the Savoy and Dial recordings are timeless and exciting. Despite his obvious talent and creativity, I just don't enjoy Lovano's work as much.

Michael said...

Congrats on the question, Bill!

Happy In Bag said...

It was my "one shining moment," Michael.

Cb said...

Parker would have been 95 years old this year. Whether we do a good job of letting modern musicians who improvise, know where the language they've copped comes from or not is no indictment on "Bird" or his enduring influence on the music. In the decade and a half since my return home to this now thriving jazz scene, as a lifelong artist, I think Kansas City has become less "inbred", less "UMKC-centric" and more broad-minded where our jazz scene is concerned. Most of that is largely due to Bobby Watson being based here and bringing students to UMKC for almost two decades now. However, our audiences have not necessarily caught up to much more than the "blues" and "R&B". But, isn't that the "rub" everywhere? The hesitation to answering your panel question aside, you can't improvise and not "owe Bird" ... Thanks!