‘Bird’ Celebration Takes Wing This Week in Downtown Kansas City, Elsewhere

Portrait of Charlie Parker in 1947 (Photo by William P. Gottlieb)

By Kevin Collison

The Fourth Annual Charlie Parker Celebration, an event that honors both the music legend and boosts Kansas City’s current jazz scene, begins today (Thursday) with a reception at the American Jazz Museum at 6 p.m. in the 18th & Vine District.

It’s the start of a 12-day festival, described as the largest salute to Parker in the nation, that will feature performances at multiple downtown venues and culminate with a big bash at the Folly Theater on Aug. 26.

“The reason we’re doing this is to enhance and promote the Kansas City jazz scene, not just as a historical honor, but to create pride in our history, and enhance and energize our jazz scene,” said Jon McGraw, president of KCJazz Alive, the event organizer.

Charlier “Yardbird” Parker, was born in Kansas City, Kan. in 1920 and moved to Kansas City, Mo. in 1927. He began playing alto sax at 13 and left school at 15 to play professionally at local clubs.

Kansas City was one of the nation’s premier jazz centers at the time, and Parker honed his skills before going on the road in the late 1930s.

He joined Jay Mcshann’s band in the late 1930s, performing solos in many of his recordings, before relocating to New York City where he ushered in the musical improvisation jazz style known as Bebop. Parker died in 1955 and is considered one of the greatest jazz artists.

He was buried at Lincoln Cemetery at 809 Truman Rd. in Kansas City.

Every year, a “21 Sax Salute” is held at the grave site, a musical salute that includes top local players. This year’s salute will be Aug. 26 at noon, and will be incorporated into a day full of events for the celebration.

That morning, there will be a Kansas City Jazz History Tour starting at 9:30 a.m. at the American Jazz Museum and hosted by Chuck Haddix of KCUR public radio. The tour includes an open house at the Musical Musicians Foundation, and an air-conditioned tour bus ride to the 21 Sax Salute event.

It will be followed by a reception that day at the Bruce R. Watkins Heritage Center. Then that evening will be the performance at the Folly called the “2017 Jazz Experience: Rhythm Changes.” A reception begins at 7 p.m. and the concert is at 8 p.m.

McGraw said the concert will include performances by Tivon Pennicott on tenor saxophone and Sullivan Fortner on piano. Both men will be artists-in-residency for the festival, and perform at other venues as well during the celebration.

Downtown venues where performances will be held during the celebration include:

-The Blue Room, 1616 E. 18th St.

-The Phoenix, 302 W. Eighth St.

-The Majestic, 931 Broadway

-Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand

-Black Dolphin, 1813 Grand

-The Ambassador Hotel, 1111 Grand

-Musical Heritage Stage at Crown Center, 2450 Grand.

“We’re building it to be the best jazz crawl in the world,” McGraw said, “and we’re now building thefts party at the end of the jazz crawl, at Parker’s grave and the big party at the Folly.

“We’re basically presenting the history of jazz in Kansas City without words.”