Sunday, May 3, 2020


Kansas City wasn’t among the cities slated to host a Fly Higher: Charlie Parker@100 concert before the pandemic forced the temporary suspension of live music.  It’s not a moot point.

Born 100 years ago in Kansas City, Kansas, Parker had a notoriously contentious relationship with his hometown.  The discord continues 65 years after his death.  Civic leaders and representatives of arts groups tout the area’s connection to the man who transformed music in the 20th century, but their diplomatic words aren’t matched by intrinsic support.

Fly Higher is an all-star band led by saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.  Along with vocalist CharenĂ©e Wade, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Larry Grenadier and DJ Kassa Overall, Mahanthappa and Carrington uphold Parker’s revolutionary spirit.  A fearless dedication to Parker’s subversiveness reflects the global acclaim bestowed upon the members of Fly Higher.  Yet they’re personae non gratae in Kansas City.

Willful defiance of convention doesn’t fly in Kansas City.  Only after his innovations were codified and he was safely ensconced in Lincoln Cemetery was Parker embraced as a hometown hero.  My fervent longing for a Fly Higher tour date doesn’t take anything away from the dozens of Kansas City jazz musicians who know Parker’s music inside and out.  But none of them- not even the exemplary Bobby Watson- possess the intrepid recklessness of the band led by Mahanthappa and Carrington.

It’s not too late for jazz power brokers in Kansas City to rectify the mortifying omission.  Concerts in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago have been canceled, but dates in Washington D.C, Detroit and several European cities are still on the books.  Is Kansas City really going to further dishonor Parker by snubbing a vital tribute on the hundredth anniversary of his death?

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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