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Charles Christopher Parker, 29 August 1920, Kansas City, Kansas, USA, d. 12 March 1955, New York City, New York, USA. Although he was born on the Kansas side of the state line, Parker was actually raised across the Kaw River in Kansas City, Missouri. His nickname was originally Yardbird due to his propensity for eating fried chicken - later this was shortened to the more poetic Bird. Musicians talk of first hearing his alto saxophone as if it were a religious conversion. Charlie Parker changed the face of jazz and shaped the course of twentieth-century music.
Kansas City saxophonists were a competitive bunch. Ben Webster and Herschel Evans both came from Kansas. Before they became national celebrities they would challenge visiting sax stars to blowing matches. It is this artistically fruitful sense of competition that provided Charlie Parker with his aesthetic. Live music could be heard at all hours of the...