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Bird Lives!: The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie (yardbird) Parker Paperback – March 22, 1996
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book history of a complicated great musician. Again if jazz is your thing this is a great buy.Published 13 months ago by Mister Jones
Great book that puts the fascinating life of this bebop legend in perspective.Published 13 months ago by Brenton M. Kossak
One reads books about Bird not because they are historically true or because they help, a little, to bring one closer to him, not that getting closer to him would be necessarily... Read morePublished 13 months ago by M. N. Pearson
About as I expected into his life and work.The title really says it all and also gives a look at Jazz at that time and a look at the unglamorous,struggle these brilliant musicians... Read morePublished 15 months ago by christopher
Great history of a jazz great! Also the nightmare of drugs and alcoholic abuse.He was bigger than life in a world that was seldom seen.Published on February 9, 2014 by brad d. williams
When Charlie "Yardbird" Parker died at the earlly age of 34, the coroner estimated that his age was 65. Heroin & booze killed him in a slow & painful death. Read morePublished on May 10, 2012 by Jerlaw