cover image Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker

Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker

Stanley Crouch. It Books, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-200559-5

With the straight-ahead timing and the ethereal blowing of a great jazzman, Crouch delivers a scorching set in this first of two volumes of his biography of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, capturing the downbeats and the up-tempo moments of the great saxophonist’s life and music. Drawing on interviews with numerous friends, fellow musicians, and family members, Crouch traces Parker’s life from his earliest days in Kansas City, Mo., his early romance and eventual marriage to Rebecca Ruffin, and his heroin addiction to his involvement with his mentors Lester Young and Buster Smith. Crouch brings to life the swinging backdrop against which Parker honed his craft: “Kansas City was becoming a kind of kind of experimental laboratory, where the collective possibilities of American rhythm were being refined and expanded on a nightly basis.” Parker eventually decides that Kansas City isn’t big enough for him, and he rides the rails to Chicago and New York, ending up on Buster Smith’s doorstep, eager to absorb all the lessons the big city has to teach him. “By now, he had long since mastered the physical challenges of playing... and become preoccupied with the coordination of mind and muscle necessary to make his own way.” As Crouch reminds us, however, “Charlie Parker, no matter how highly talented, was not greater than his idiom. But his work helped to lead the art form to its most penetrating achievement.” (Oct.)