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No musician has lived a more transformational, or more tragic, life than Charlie Parker, one of the most talented and influential figures of the twentieth century. From the start of his career in the late 1930s, Parker was a new kind of American artist: a revolutionary musician who internalized all of popular music and blew it back through his alto saxophone "at the tempo of emergency"--even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would ultimately contribute to his death at thirty-four.
Yet no writer has fully captured the arc and texture of Parker's personal story . . . until now. Kansas City Lightning, the first in a two-volume life of Parker by Stanley Crouch, draws on decades of original interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members to reveal Parker as he emerged from the landscapes--literal and artistic--that he inhabited. A precocious child, shy yet self-possessed, Charlie ventured early into the nightlife of wide-open Depression Kansas City, a veritable stomping ground for such bandleaders as Walter Page, Bennie Moten, and Moten's successor, Count Basie, the king of Kansas City swing. Inspired by saxophonists Lester Young and Chu Berry, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and his mentor Buster Smith, Parker endured initial humiliation on the bandstand--yet persevered until he mastered the idiom and began to transcend it.
Kansas City Lightning follows Parker from the "freak shows" and "spook breakfasts" of late-night Kansas City, to the segregated union halls of Chicago, and finally to New York's Harlem ballrooms. Most intimately, it brings us into young Charlie Parker's family circle, as he plunged headlong into a very adult world--lured by both music and drugs, torn between his oddly protective mother and Rebecca Ruffin, the impressionable young woman whose romance with Charlie is at the bittersweet heart of this story.
With the musical wisdom of a lifetime jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an indispensable social critic, and the narrative skill of a writer at the height of his powers, Crouch brings Parker back to glorious, surprising, and deeply moving life.