In 1945, Charlie Parker grabbed the jazz world’s attention with a record called “Now’s the Time.”
A jazz innovator’s time had arrived, and truth to tell, it has never ended.
The Kansas City alto saxophonist, who lived from 1920 to 1955, opened all kinds of new spaces for jazz. Everything that has evolved since then had to come through those spaces, and everything that’s yet to come will have to deal with Parker somehow.
That’s why we’re celebrating the Bird, as Parker was known. As his Aug. 29 birthday anniversary approaches, Kansas City is in the middle of a 10-day Charlie Parker Celebration, a happy collaboration of several groups to take the jazz message around the community.
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The emphasis is on performance, with gigs every night. Some will feature the celebration’s artist-in-residence, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, a player of brilliance, heart and wit.
The Bird celebration also has an element of history and an element of jazz education. Check out the master class on Monday and the panel on Tuesday.
Finally, there’s an element of pure celebration. The festival culminates in a gravesite tribute on Saturday, the 95th anniversary of Parker’s birth. We’re expecting to see Parker’s stepdaughter, Kim Parker, and Parker historian Norman Saks in town, too.
Let’s take it day by day:
▪ Sunday: The Foundation 627 Big Band shows its Bird connections at 8:30 p.m. at the Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd.
▪ Monday: By day, there’s a jazz improvisation clinic and master class with Jenkins and others at 4 p.m. at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St.
By night, saxophonist Brett Jackson and keyboardist Chris Hazelton perform at Chaz on the Plaza in the Raphael Hotel, 325 Ward Parkway, at 7 p.m. Singer Millie Edwards performs at the Phoenix, 302 W. Eighth St., at 7 p.m. And Bird prevails at the Blue Room’s weekly jam, led this time by bassist Bill McKemy, at 7 p.m.
▪ Tuesday: A panel discussion called “The Elders Speak: We Remember Bird” explores the memories of two nonagenarians who moved in Parker’s world: Bernice Todd, widow of bandleader Oliver Todd, and Sellie Truitt, musician and a former member of the Kansas City Monarchs. It’s at 6 p.m. at the American Jazz Museum.
Musically: Bassist Gerald Spaits and reed man Charles Perkins perform a Parker tribute at noon in the Polsky Theater at Johnson County Community College. Pianist Michael Pagan performs at 6 p.m. at Cafe Trio, 4558 Main St. And blues man Lonnie Ray and his band recognize the blues elements in Bird at 7 p.m. at Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen, 1823 W. 39th St.
▪ Wednesday: Trumpeter Hermon Mehari plays at the Majestic, 931 Broadway, at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, sax man Todd Wilkinson is guest on a Bird tribute and live performance-recording session for the “12th Street Jump” radio show at 7:30 p.m. at the Broadway Kansas City, 3601 Broadway.
▪ Thursday: Trombonist Ryan Heinlein puts together as many good trombonists as can fit on one stage for a performance of his KC Bone Company at 7:30 p.m. at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave. Bassist Micah Herman brings his band to the Ship, 1217 Union Ave. in the West Bottoms, at 9:30 p.m.
▪ Friday: Guitarist Ron Carlson’s trio performs at 7 p.m. at Chaz. St. Louis drummer Montez Coleman and some heavy friends jam at the Blue Room at 8:30 p.m.
▪ Saturday: There’s one more musical performance, with Jenkins joining bassist Bob Bowman’s Bowdog band at 8:30 p.m. at the Blue Room.
But before that, there’s the biggest event of all, the gravesite tribute and celebration. We’ll gather at noon at Lincoln Cemetery, off Blue Ridge Road between Independence Avenue and Truman Road, for a saxophone salute and a few words of appreciation.
That’s followed at 2 p.m. by a reception, a chicken feed and a “showcase performance” by Jenkins and friends at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, 3700 Blue Parkway.
A few years ago, it seemed that Kansas City could barely get it together for one or two Bird tribute events. Now we have them for 10 days in a row. That’s a sign of collective progress and rising jazz awareness in the community.
Now we just need bigger crowds of even more people who know about the world-changing contributions that Parker started to make right here in his hometown. Because now’s the time. And it’s always Bird’s time.
▪ Pianist Eddie Moore and his Outer Circle band play Sunday at the Blue Room, at 6 p.m., an unusual date for that venue. They’re promoting a new album, “Live in Kansas City.”
▪ The Vine Street Seven, an offshoot of the Vine Street Rumble big band that’s dedicated to playing the Kansas City sound of the 1930s, performs at 6 p.m. Sunday at Ironwoods Park in Leawood. There’s another big incentive to attend: Singer Danny Cox will jump the blues with the band.
▪ Highlights at the Green Lady Lounge include guitarist Adam Schlozman’s Earth Trio at 9 p.m. Monday; the Sequel Trio at 9 p.m. Tuesday; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m. Wednesday; Brett Jackson’s quartet at 9 p.m. Thursday; singer Molly Hammer at 8:30 p.m. Friday, followed by 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, pianist Mark Lowrey’s trio at 9 p.m. Friday and the Sons of Brasil at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
▪ Seattle-area alto saxophonist Mark Lewis, a second-generation jazzman, is a Parker-inspired player and a good friend of Kansas City pianist Bram Wijnands, who plays in the stride style that dates from a generation or more before Parker. Can they make the two styles work together? You bet they can. Hear it happen at the Majestic at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.