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An Influential Jazz Musician: Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is my favourite jazz musician. For those of you who may not know, Charlie Parker is one of the most influential jazz musicians. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, he had little attention from his parents. Despite this, his musical career was influenced by his father who was a pianist, and Robert Simpson who introduced him to musical improvisation on the trombone. Starting at the age of 12, Charlie Parker began playing the saxophone with his high school band. In 1939, Parker moved to New York at the age of 19 to pursue his musical career. Upon his arrival in New York, he made a living by working at a very low-paying job. Even with such a financial struggle, he was determined to continue to realize his musical talents. Parker gained popularity after joining a young music group in Harlem, and performing at numerous venues. He unfortunately developed a chronic addiction to heroin and died at the age of 30. His widely recognized talent in his twelve years of performing revolutionized modern jazz music.

Of all Parker’s songs, “Donna Lee,” “All the Things You Are,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “Ornithology,” and “Ko Ko” appeal to me. Even though they are by the same composer, there are multiple stylistic differences.

The beat of “Ko Ko” is fast and uplifting. Charlie Parker improvises throughout the song by adding many sudden tempo changes which make the song more dramatic. The calm piano and background music work perfectly in harmony with the musician’s skillful Alto saxophone playing. This quiet and subtle background music highlights his saxophone playing which further captures your emotions. This music is capable of bringing back all the happy memories.

The tempo of “All the Things You Are” is noticeably slower. The arrangement is more plain and unlike the other songs, there is not as much variation in melody. The song sounds suspenseful because Charlie Parker lengthens notes and suddenly plays louder at times. Since the rhythm keeps me in suspense, it makes me want to continue to listen until the end of the song. This song with a down tone sounds like it could be a theme song of a cheerless movie.

In the song “Ornithology,” the saxophonist plays the saxophone in a way that strongly resembles the chirping and flapping wings of birds. The addition of drums to the beginning and throughout the song makes the whole piece of music lively. It reminds me of a very eager, excited, and happy red cardinal chirping in my backyard on a spring morning.

In the song “Billie’s Bounce”, the harmonic piano chords and repetitive drum beat contrast the saxophone playing. As the name suggests, there are alternating patterns of notes played. The repetition of some musical intervals enhances the precision of the changing melody conveyed by the musician. The intonation of the volume further expands upon Billie’s cheerful emotions. This song embodies the bouncy ride of a violent roller coaster.

Donna Lee’s rhythm is similar to “Ko Ko” as they are both uplifting songs. However, Donna Lee sounds more elegant as its notes are slightly longer, which also make it sound less playful than “Ko Ko.” Again, in my opinion, the overall arrangement of the background piano music and the saxophone is harmonious. Based on the music, I have the image of Donna Lee being cheerful and happy.

Overall, I believe that Charlie Parker’s songs can be enjoyed by anyone no matter what kind of music is preferred. As most of his songs are uplifting, they can bring joy to listeners. His musical expressions and interpretations are very diverse. He can effortlessly express any complicated emotions through his jazz Alto saxophone, a talent that makes his fame well-deserved.

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