Tuesday, June 2, 2009
for charlie "yardbird" parker
remembering charlie "yardbird" parker
have u ever seen a chicken pee?
or seen a yardbird fly? soaring, fast,
rhythmically, asymmetrically balanced –
conjuring up a new vocabulary for
chicken flight with words like lift,
thrust & drag – improvising.
hard as it it might be for a chicken
to fly it was harder still for young
chicken-eating charlie to play his
horn to carry a tune & keep folk from
throwing shit at him. if a chicken
practiced fifteen hours a day it might fly.
that’s what young yardbird had to do –
learn to play a decent melody in all twelve
keys, change the shape of his tone, give it
different properties up & down scale.
change its angle of attack pressing down,
pushing backwards, generating lift.
conjuring up a chordal lexicon turned
inside out with extended intervals to
filigree complex tunes, suggest in passing
variants of altered & substituted pitches
sounding sensuously simultaneous.
yardbird broke out of the woodshed
in ‘39 sending chips flying; soared so
high the yard in his name fell away like
an expended rocket booster, & drew
unto himself the thrust from fast
moving energy ejected from his soul;
turned that thrust into dazzling virtuoso
technique or sweet plaintive soul calls.
but his own soul fuel was not enough
to sustain the high. he drank whiskey
by the quart & stuffed his veins with
heroin; made multiple phone calls
in packed hotel lobbies wearing nothing
but white socks & a smile. instead of
soaring he swayed wildly, spinning his
life & music around antipodal addiction
& genius going badly off mic often;
plummeting into a six month stay at
camarrillo then leaving there to set the
standard for the alto for decades to come.
putting an indelible mark on anyone who
claimed to play jazz until bottoming out,
flat-lining in eight years an old man at 34.
©Joseph McNair; 2008