HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of…
Loading...

Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker

by Stanley Crouch

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
754160,370 (3.61)4

None.

None
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 4 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
A fascinating look at Charlie Parker's beginning. I assumed (wrongly) that this would be a full biography of Parker's life, but it stops before he truly hits the big time. It traces his rice in Kansas City, his hoboing to Chicago and then to New York to see the world and prove his worth, and ends with his eventual return to Kansas City. Included are many pictures, interviews with his first wife and a wonderful array of Jazz history and culture so that the reader can gain a better understanding of how Parker created a unique sound all his own while studying the Jazz masters of the day. A wonderfully informative book that makes me wonder if it's the first in a series. I want to know about his rise to fame, not just the beginnings! ( )
  ecataldi | Mar 23, 2017 |
This, the first of Stanley Crouch's projected two-volume biography of musician Charlie Parker (1920-1955), ends at the point where a jazz fan's interest might begin, at the "Honey and Body" recording. Sometime in 1939 or 1940 - we're not sure exactly - Parker recorded, for his private use, a brief medley of "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Body and Soul"; it's his earliest known recording, and of great interest as a milestone in his musical development. For telling us about all the historic recordings that would follow, about who Parker was and what he meant, Crouch is mainly reserving the second book of the biography.

If you're unfamiliar with Parker, or need a reminder, here's "Ko-Ko" from 1945, just a few years later (Youtube: don't know if these links will last, and sorry about the ads). Here's "Donna Lee" from 1947.

But our jazz fan really needs to read this book, which tells us how Parker came to be Parker: his life to that point, his personal and musical growth, the people he knew who later served as witnesses to these years. But, beyond that, Kansas City Lightning is the story of all the threads of African-American life that came together around this boy/young man as he developed his extraordinary talent.

Crouch gives us a pocket history of African-American music and culture. An African-American named Frank Johnson led a popular dance band in 1819. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African-Americans were able to make increasing use of what freedoms were available to them to travel widely, observing the musical styles in distant cities, and organizing their own nightlife despite the repression from white society. The early popularity of ragtime preceded the development of jazz, a new music having improvisation as its central characteristic. Crouch expands on the tension between minstrelcy - the clowning behavior that entertainers were confined to for so long - and the elegance and dignity exemplified by Duke Ellington; on the importance of music teachers in racially segregated high schools, providing rigorous training for musicians who were largely excluded from higher education; on the meaning of boxers Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, proving that an African-American was as good as anyone.

Supremely important in this world was the character of jazz as a blood sport - a ferocious competition between players or bands, wherein the better musicians won the day and the lesser ones went home in shame, according to a judgment shared by everyone on the bandstand and in the audience. In this mileu, performers were constantly seeking to improve their skills and, equally importantly, to develop unique personae of sound and style that were theirs alone, matched by no one else. Parker's hometown, Kansas City, developed a regional coterie of players who could match the best visitors from Chicago or New York. We're used to the modern jazz idiom now, and it's hard to comprehend the decades of work and competition among hundreds of superbly talented people that brought it into existence. Crouch starts the book on this point, in early 1942, with the Jay McShann band winning New York's Savoy Ballroom with Parker's alto saxophone, before going back to the start of his subject's life.

In Kansas City, Kansas was born Charlie Parker, the indulged child of a fiercely admiring and protective mother who was his only parent from an early age. He grew, played with friends, went to school, married, and studied the saxophone. What Crouch tells us comes from the testimony of his playmates, fellow aspiring musicians, and his first wife, Rebecca Ruffin Parker. Amazingly, and outrageously, no one interviewed Rebecca Parker, the first wife of one of the most important American musicians of the 20th century, until Crouch did so in 1981, 26 years after Charlie's death. This and other lacunae mean that our knowledge of those years is rather fragmentary in parts - but the story of a developing talent is clear, even as Parker as a person remains a bit mysterious.

We learn about the mentors Parker admired and sought out, his student and early professional days, his hopping freight trains - in the midst of the Great Depresson - to Chicago and New York. We see proved once again the adage about genius being mostly perspiration. Parker practiced many thousands of hours, over years, before he was even good enough to be allowed on the bandstand with the pros. He listened to live performances, radio broadcasts, and records for many more thousands of hours.

Sadly, we learn that, like many great men, Parker was capable of abusing women. He neglected Rebecca and their baby son for the streets, and for other women, and at one point held a pistol to her head. In this, Parker's story, far from unique, is much too familiar.

Crouch writes with a lyricism that, though a bit overdone at times, captures the feeling of the music in non-technical terms. Here's that 1942 Savoy date:

The rhythm section lit out. The band came in and played the song's ensemble chorus, sixty-four bars of a tune notorious for its complex harmony, all those holes you could break your musical legs in. This was one of those times when the griddle was hot and nothing came up except steam. Arrogant and proud of themselves, the rhythm section reared back and pounced on Charlie's back when he put his horn to his mouth. And his saxophone, in turn, became a flamethrower of rhythm, melody, and harmony. They pushed and drove, chorus after chorus. Then as professional experience had taught them, they lulled, let him get a little stronger, went back to their basic strategy, and let him dance his hot-footed dance with suble support. Then they tore into him again, setting fire to his tail.

(...)

That afternoon, sixteen miles away from Harlem, bassist Chubby Jackson was working at the Adams Theatre in Newark. He was playing with the big band led by Charlie Barnet, who had had a hit with "Cherokee" two years before. While on break, Jackson decided to see (...) the Savoy broadcast. As soon as he turned on the radio, a sound that was almost brutal shot out of the speaker. The song was "Cherokee", but the sound leading McShann's version was that of an alto saxophone almost completely devoid of vibrato, notes flying thick as buckshot, slapping chords this way and that, rambling quicker and with more different kinds of rhythms than his band had ever heard from a saxophone. Everybody stopped talking, fiddling with their instruments. Who the hell was this? Oklahoma trumpeter Howard McGhee, who was there that afternoon, chuckled at the memory: every musician standing there with his mouth open knew where he was going that night.


At the end, we are left with Parker making that private recording at 19 or 20; already estranged from Rebecca, already addicted to opiates, already more than halfway through his terribly short life, already a master musician whose name would someday serve as half of Miles Davis's summary of the history of jazz: "Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker". The needle cuts into the recording disk. Crouch has worked on this book since 1981; he has promised the sequel in a couple of years. Can't wait. ( )
9 vote dukedom_enough | Mar 11, 2014 |
"There was a certain majesty to this young man, but also a delicate misery."

Charlie Parker was a spoiled mama's boy and one of the greatest saxophone players that ever lived. At fifteen he was a drug addict and pawning the sax he loved so much to feed his addiction. Despite being flawed and seemingly emotionally distant there is something about Parker's melancholy air that draws you to him and his story.

He had two loves but one stole his heart. He fell in love with the young Rebecca. Their young love could not survive the relationship he was building with music. Parker studied jazz musicians and the music itself tirelessly. It possessed him. Rebecca could not compete.

It wasn't fame that drew Parker to the music but it almost seemed like it was a supernatural pull. Parker's life is shrouded in mystery. Crouch did his best to unveil some of the mystery around this legendary artist but he still came short. In life and death, Parker keeps us on the perimeter of his life.

This book is a historian's dream. Crouch gives so much detail to the people, places, and times that influenced Parker and jazz as a whole. There were times that the reader could actually get lost in these details and forget the focus of the book was Parker's life. The ending felt like you fell off a cliff. There was no closure whatsoever. ( )
1 vote pinkcrayon99 | Mar 3, 2014 |
I received Kansas City Lightning as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

As a big jazz fan, I was excited to read this biography of Charlie Parker and was not disappointed.

Kansas City Lightning, the first of two volumes, represents over 30 years of research and personal interviews by Stanley Crouch. It's a vividly-told biography, bringing to life Parker's birth and childhood near and in Kansas City, his relationship with his first wife Rebecca, the budding jazz culture of the 1920s and 1930s, and the sights and sounds of Depression-era America as Parker and his band traveled throughout the country.

Crouch skilfully demonstrates Parker's incredible talent, but this is no fawning tribute. He doesn't gloss over Parker's faults or problems, specifically his troubled teenage marriage to Rebecca and his growing drug addiction.

All in all, an incredibly well-researched, fascinating biography. I would look forward to reading Part 2.

Highly recommended.
( )
1 vote ceg045 | Feb 19, 2014 |
Showing 4 of 4
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Quotations
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062005596, Hardcover)

Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker is the first installment in the long-awaited portrait of one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century, from Stanley Crouch, one of the foremost authorities on jazz and culture in America.

Throughout his life, Charlie Parker personified the tortured American artist: a revolutionary performer who used his alto saxophone to create a new music known as bebop even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would lead to his death at the age of thirty-five.

Drawing on interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members, Kansas City Lightning recreates Parker’s Depression-era childhood; his early days navigating the Kansas City nightlife, inspired by lions like Lester Young and Count Basie; and on to New York, where he began to transcend the music he had mastered. Crouch reveals an ambitious young man torn between music and drugs, between his domineering mother and his impressionable young wife, whose teenage romance with Charlie lies at the bittersweet heart of this story.

With the wisdom of a jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an acclaimed social critic, and the narrative skill of a literary novelist, Stanley Crouch illuminates this American master as never before.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:15 -0400)

The first installment in the long-awaited portrait of one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century. Charlie Parker personified the tortured American artist: a revolutionary performer who used his alto saxophone to create a new music known as bebop even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would lead to his death at 34. With the wisdom of a jazz scholar, the cultural insights of a social critic, and the narrative skill of a novelist, drawing on interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members, Stanley Crouch recreates Parker's Depression-era childhood; his early days navigating the Kansas City nightlife, inspired by lions like Lester Young and Count Basie; and on to New York, where he began to transcend the music he had mastered. Crouch reveals an ambitious young man torn between music and drugs, between his domineering mother and his impressionable young wife, whose teenage romance with Charlie lies at the bittersweet heart of this story.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
12 wanted

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.61)
0.5
1
1.5
2 1
2.5
3 2
3.5
4 5
4.5 1
5

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 116,938,521 books! | Top bar: Always visible