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Bird Lives!: The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie (yardbird) Parker Paperback – March 22, 1996

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Bird Lives!: The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie (yardbird) Parker + Bird: The Legend Of Charlie Parker (Da Capo Paperback)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 22, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306806797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306806797
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Bird Lives!: The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker is the vivid biography of a musical genius and a symbol of an age. He was the very embodiment of jazz. Charles Parker was born in 1920 in Kansas City, where a new kind of American music was brewing in the honky-tonks and would seep across the nation a decade later. No man did more to excite and direct that outpouring of endlessly inventive sound than Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. His range, virtuosity, and originality with a saxophone (and his driven, self-consuming lifestyle) made him a luminous cult hero and a kinetic force in the history of jazz. With Dizzy Gillespie he led the bebop insurrection which would supplant the big bands, until Parker's influence outstripped even Louis Armstrong's. Beyond that, he was the first angry black man in music: the futility of the blows he directed at the white establishment did much to feed his heroin and alcohol dependencies and to accelerate a seemingly compulsive rush toward self-destruction. Parker was a man of vast appetites to match his gifts, and Ross Russell relates the offstage antics which were marked by chronic overindulgence and defiance: throwing his saxophone out of a hotel window, walking into the ocean wearing a new suit, standing up the promoter of a Paris jazz concert, drinking sixteen double whiskies in two hours, eating twenty hamburgers at a sitting, riding a policeman's horse into a prominent Manhattan tavern, and accommodating the steady stream of women who threw themselves at him. Parker mastered his craft while a teenager, became a legend in his twenties, and burned himself out at the age of 34. Birdland became the most popular jazz lounge of its time, a tribute to Parker's importance. Bird Lives! is a magnificent biographical tribute, a profound landmark in music literature, and an incisive study of towering talent in a segregated world. -- Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Ross Russell is the author of The Sound, a novel of the jazz world, and Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest. In 1946 he formed Dial Records, heading the company for a decade, during which he released records by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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See all 16 customer reviews
This book is a very fun book to read.
This book is all about larger than life stories and has very little to do with trying to understand more than the legend.
Black Dog
He had an amazing life to ups and downs.
Rick Kennedy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By M. Detko on April 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
Ross Russell was the president of Dial records when Parker was in California. He recorded several sides while there, but Mr Russell, an obvious fan of Parker, makes a huge effort to desribe Parker's whole spectacular and at the same time tragic life and career. When I read this book, I literally could not put it down.
Parker was a great clown and entertainer, something which Clint Eastwood's disappointing movie "Bird" never portrayed, instead sticking to the sad and seedy sections of the great Parker's life. I read this book years before the film came out, and I was shocked because I knew Eastwood to be a big jazz fan.
Anyhow, every major event in Parker's short life is chronicled, giving an excellent narrative of an extraordinary career.
Miled Davis in his autobiography said that Bird was a con, a cheat, and that Ross Russell exploited him. Nonetheless, this book presents many facets to describe Parker's life, in vivid detail. I'd call this essential for any true jazz fan to understand the man, his music, and the truly monumental and unsurpassed contribution Parker made to all music. Also revealed are all the main players of the time and their relation to the music and the man.
Also, there are three books I recommend (in this order) to anyone who really wants the inside scoop on the jazz life: Bird Lives, Miles Davis' in-your-face-autobiography, and Albert Goldman's biography of Lenny Bruce. All three books can be read as companion pieces and give a realistic portrait of 3 of the most influential people of the 20th century and the world that created them. At the same time all three books provide an excellent reality check to anyone contemplating a heroin habit!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By arpard fazakas on October 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
This was the first biography of Bird to be published, and is problematic due to the self-admitted difficulty of the author in understanding his subject, due in part to a commercial, sometimes adversarial relationship.

I bought this book when it first came out, while I was still in the throes of a serious case of Birdolatry. I still consider him a stupendous genius, but I think I have a more nuanced appreciation of Bird the man. Like many of his admirers, I was initially seduced not just by the thrilling music but also by the legend of Bird the ultimate hipster, the existentialist living always for the moment, the man of enormous appetites who indulged them all without regard for society's opinion or personal consequences. And all of these things were indeed true about Bird, but do not begin to completely describe him.

Ross Russell met Bird at a time when he was already a legend among cognoscenti but had only begun to achieve wider commercial recognition. Bird's recordings for Russell's Dial label were the first to fully document his genius. Bird could not have been an easy artist to work with, given his lack of concern with legal niceties like contracts and the constant financial and personal pressures imposed by his addiction to heroin. Nonetheless for the most part Russell did his best to ensure that Bird got a fair shake with regard to royalties. Unfortunately, this was completely overshadowed by his decision to release the recordings from the infamous Lover Man date of July 29, 1946, the day a very sick Bird suffered a breakdown and ultimately had to be committed to Camarillo State mental hospital for 6 months. This decision cannot be defended and led in later years to an estrangement between Bird and Russell.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rick Kennedy on July 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
I've read hundreds of jazz histories, and Ross Russell's original classic, "Bird Lives!", remains among my favorite. I read it again this week, in fact. Are there more thorough Parker biographies? Well, sure. But Ross Russell was there. He created Dial Records for the purposes of recording Parker. Also, Russell (a pulp writer in his young years) always had literary aspirations, and his writing has that fun, hard-boiled style of the 1930s. Ross was a product of his literary times. I hope this book never goes out of print.

Granted, I'm biased. In the early 1990s, when Ross was in his 90s and living alone in a trailer in the California desert, he and I corresponded frequently. I was writing a chapter on Dial Records for a book, and Ross was so encouraging and helpful. He had an amazing life to ups and downs. Ross was a very funny guy, and that humor runs throughout "Bird Lives!" With Bird, you either laughed or cried. Ross did a fair amount of both.

Read "Bird Lives!" with an open mind, and ignore the bandwagon of critics who attack it. There's no substitute for fascinating first-person accounts, and Ross' personal experiences with the saxophone madman leave every jazz historian green with envy.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
I found this book pretty hard to put down. It reads like a fun, well-written novel, the main character of which is a fascinating and charming--but insulting and heroin-shooting--musical genius. This leads to the question: Is everything in this book "true"? I have no idea, not being an authority on Parker, but, at least for now, I don't care all that much. Ross Russell does a decent job of painting a portrait of Bird, at least in broad strokes, and the reader gains the sense that the book is more or less true, generally speaking. Russell did, after all, know Parker (even if he had a not-so-great relationship with him), and much of what is covered in the book is documented elsewhere. The book does, though, have its share of nitpicking critics.
I appreciate Russell's knowledge of Parker's main contributions to jazz. Given my limited knowledge of Parker, Russell has a good sense of the artist at his prime; he knows, for example, that Parker was at his best in the late forties and around 1950, and he discusses why this and that record ("Koko," "Lover Man," etc.) is particualrly important. Though Russell admires Parker tremendously (he insinuates and says outright that Bird is the greatest practitioner of jazz ever), he isn't afraid to show his ugly sides as a person--his tendency to put on airs, be crude and irresponsible, etc.
Above all, Russell gives us a good idea why Parker is (I would say, after Armstrong and Ellington) the greatest figure in jazz of the 20th century. He brings the reader into the solos themselves, as much as a writer can without splitting hairs. I recommend this book to anyone even remotely inteserested in jazz, Parker, bebop, or culture of the U.S., mid-20th-century.
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