I am delighted to report that I have scheduled an interview with Stanley Crouch, author of Kansas City Lightening, The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker, and for many years one of jazz music’s most outspoken and influential intellectual. The interview will take place later this month, and my hope is to publish it over the holidays.
We recently published an excerpt from the first chapter of his book…In case you missed it, here it is again. Crouch describes the scene in New York’s Savoy Ballroom when Jay McShann (Parker on alto) dueled Lucky Millinder’s band, as well as Parker’s need for getting high, and doing so prior to the evening’s performance…
But the things his fellow band members were thinking about were of no consequence to Charlie Parker. He had his mind on other matters. Getting in touch with other musicians was high on his agenda, but first Parker had to deal with the condition of his body — to establish connections of another, more urgent kind. Then, and only then, would Charlie Parker the musician take over.
At this critical point in his development, the twenty-one-year old Parker was possessed by his music — by a ravenous need to improvise, to learn new tunes, to find new ways of getting through the harmonies with materials that would liberate him from clichés. Once he did, his new ideas so excited him that he would play around the clock, looking for another bandstand to test them on as soon as each night’s paying gig was done, and yet another if the after-hours players wrapped things up too soon to satisfy him. To McShann, Parker seemed to have a crying soul, a spirit as troubled by the nature of life as it was capable of almost unlimited celebration. But the saxophone was all he really had: it provided him with the one constantly honest relationship in his life. What he gave the horn it gave back. What it gave him, he never forgot.
But there were plenty of other things to forget. The world had constantly disappointed Charlie Parker. For all the satisfactions of his music, for all the light jokes and deep laughs on the road, he was basically a melancholy and suspicious man, a genius in search of a solution to a blues that wore razors for spurs. And, like a tight number of younger musicians, he found it so much easier to relax, to tame his perpetual restlessness and anxiety, when he rolled up his sleeve and pushed a needle into his vein. That winter afternoon, Parker likely walked the few blocks from the Woodside to Monroe’s Uptown House on 133rd Street and Seventh Avenue, where he knew he could always taste from a big pot of food on the stove — and find his old friend Chuck Monroe, who knew all the hustlers, who knew who had the dope, how much it cost, and how dependable they were.
Crouch has been a participant in several memorable discussions on Jerry Jazz Musician over the years, including “Blues for Clement Greenberg,” a Jerry Jazz Musician hosted roundtable on jazz criticism, with Stanley Crouch, Martha Bayles and Loren Schoenberg. We look forward to discussing his Parker biography with him soon.
Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Ray Brown and Hank Jones, from 1950