Now's The Time: Celebrating Charlie Parker | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Now's The Time: Celebrating Charlie Parker

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Within hours of Charlie Parker's death in 1955 (so the story goes), the graffito "Bird Lives" had begun to materialize on walls and sidewalks around New York City. Nothing that has occurred over the last 40 years would argue against that bold assertion. Indeed, the renewed ascendancy of bebop has amazed even the music's most ardent traditionalists, as a seemingly endless geyser of wannabeboppers gushes forth, copying and occasionally varying the music that Parker and Dizzy Gillespie discovered and perfected as an alternative to the big-band swing of their mentors. But no art form can truly flourish outside its own time, and bebop remains most persuasive in the hands of those who actually participated in its development. That's why this Charlie Parker tribute promises more than an overstuffed jam session. Of the three alto saxophonists who will take part, one is a Parker contemporary (James Moody); one adopted and then extended Parker's achievement (Jackie McLean, rarely heard around here in recent years); and one began crafting a perfect imitation of Parker shortly before Bird's death (Charles McPherson). Bassist Al McKibbon actually played with Parker, as did drummer Roy Haynes and Chicago's percussion treasure Wilbur Campbell. The bill also includes Barry Harris, the last disciple of the first great bop pianist, Bud Powell; he'll share the bench with Willie Pickens, one of the completely qualified "ringers" in this crowd (the others include Chicago bassist Larry Gray, vocalist Lorez Alexandria, and trumpeter Jon Faddis, who, when called on to do so, can sound more like Dizzy than Dizzy). Usually, the sheer bulk of such a lineup threatens to topple a concert into long-winded hyperbole; but the programmers of this one have carefully grouped the artists into distinct units that ought to keep the pacing brisk. The concert takes place two days after the 75th anniversary of Parker's birth, an event that has spurred celebrations onstage (around the world) and on disc (with Verve Records in particular reissuing a number of Parker anthologies). But this tribute, organized by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, has another function as well: since it takes place the night before the Chicago Jazz Festival weekend in Grant Park, it extends the fest, in effect, to another night and another venue. (Proceeds benefit the JIC, on whose board this writer serves.) Thursday, August 31, 7:30 PM, Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo; 427-3400 or 427-1676.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Robbie-Anna Hare.

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