It’s time for 10 days dedicated to Bird.
Several Kansas City-area jazz groups have put their heads together to present the second annual Charlie Parker Celebration, marking what would have been the 95th birthday of the t jazz innovator in a hometown that hasn’t always embraced his legacy.
It bears repeating: Alto saxophonist Parker was the single greatest jazz musician to come out of Kansas City, a man whose innovations in harmony and rhythm opened up enormous new spaces for jazz players and singers. He’s one of the few figures in jazz history who absolutely every listener and player must confront and be confronted by to really understand this form of music.
This year’s Parker celebration includes an exhibition of artifacts from his life, panel discussions, education events — and most importantly, performances all over town.
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The celebration starts on Thursday with the opening of a Parker exhibition at the American Jazz Museum, 1616 E. 18th St. Even the seasoned Parker enthusiast will be surprised at some of the things on display. That evening the museum also presents a panel discussion, featuring Bird biographer Chuck Haddix, jazz historian Scott DeVeaux and trumpeter Clay Jenkins, the celebration’s artist in residence.
The celebration features many nights of diverse jazz performances that will reflect Parker’s legacy. One unifying factor is that as artist in residence, Jenkins is expected to drop in and jam at many of them. That will be a treat, each time.
Jenkins also participates in a “boot camp” on the specialized language of Parker’s music — it may have seemed esoteric in 1945, but it’s common now — for students of all ages. That’s from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., and it’s free.
Haddix leads a tour of Kansas City sites associated with Parker’s life from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, starting at the jazz museum. It’s $25, $10 for members of the museum, the UMKC Jazz Friends or the Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz.
Then there are the musical performances linked to the Parker celebration. The group Shades of Jade plays the Blue Room at 7 p.m. Thursday; the singing, dancing, horn-playing McFadden Brothers appear at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Phoenix, 302 W. Eighth St.; tenor saxophonist Steven Lambert’s group performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Broadway Kansas City, 3601 Broadway; trumpeter Stan Kessler appears at 8 p.m. Saturday at 12 Baltimore in the Hotel Phillips, 106 W. 12th St.; and singer David Basse’s group appears at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Room.
There are other things to celebrate here — one, that the Parker celebration is happening for a second year after far too many years when Kansas City had nothing like it. Two, that several Kansas City jazz organizations are working together to make things happen. A few years ago that was unheard-of.
Many more Bird-related events will follow, including the gravesite tribute on Parker’s birthday, Aug. 29. We’ll tell you more about it in this space next week.
▪ The Blue Room also has bassist James Ward’s band at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
▪ Highlights at the Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., include the Foundation 627 Big Band at 8:30 p.m. Sunday; bassist Karl McComas-Reichl’s group at 9 p.m. Monday; percussionist John Kizilarmut’s group at 9 p.m. Tuesday; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m. Wednesday; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 9 p.m. Thursday; singer Molly Hammer at 8:30 p.m. Friday, followed by organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m.; and OJT again at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
▪ The Broadway Kansas City also has the New Jazz Order big band at 9 p.m. Tuesday and singer Kathleen Holeman at 6 p.m. Wednesday.