Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Crouch, MacArthur Fellowship winner and long-time essayist on jazz and other topics, here tackles one of the two or three most important figures in the history of the music. Those expecting a straight or conventional biography will not find it here. Though Crouch adds to the historical record by including material gained through interviews with key figures in Parker's life--including his first wife, friends from his youth, his mentor Buster Smith--much of this volume is, as the title indicates, about Parker's "times"--and the times leading up to that. So one reads not only about Parker, but also about boxing champion Jack Johnson; Sherlock Holmes's drug use; the infamous Pendergast political machine of Parker's hometown, Kansas City, that created a Midwestern jazz mecca; the history of cinema; hoboing; and other topics both far-flung and more directly related to jazz and Parker. All of this is recounted in Crouch's extraordinarily colorful prose, in a writing style that exhibits some of the unpredictability of jazz improvisation. This volume covers the Bird's life up to 1940; a projected second volume will cover the celebrated latter part of his career. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. K. R. Dietrich Ripon College
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With the straight-ahead timing and the ethereal blowing of a great jazzman, Crouch delivers a scorching set in this first of two volumes of his biography of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, capturing the downbeats and the up-tempo moments of the great saxophonist's life and music. Drawing on interviews with numerous friends, fellow musicians, and family members, Crouch traces Parker's life from his earliest days in Kansas City, Mo., his early romance and eventual marriage to Rebecca Ruffin, and his heroin addiction to his involvement with his mentors Lester Young and Buster Smith. Crouch brings to life the swinging backdrop against which Parker honed his craft: "Kansas City was becoming a kind of kind of experimental laboratory, where the collective possibilities of American rhythm were being refined and expanded on a nightly basis." Parker eventually decides that Kansas City isn't big enough for him, and he rides the rails to Chicago and New York, ending up on Buster Smith's doorstep, eager to absorb all the lessons the big city has to teach him. "By now, he had long since mastered the physical challenges of playing... and become preoccupied with the coordination of mind and muscle necessary to make his own way." As Crouch reminds us, however, "Charlie Parker, no matter how highly talented, was not greater than his idiom. But his work helped to lead the art form to its most penetrating achievement." (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* To jazz lovers, the prospect of music and cultural critic Crouch taking on the life of the iconic Charlie Parker carries the anticipation that fans would have had at the great battles of the jazz bands or the cutting contests vividly described here. Crouch captures with novelistic verve the excitement of that period in covering the early years of Parker's ultimately short life, which contained within it so many warring elements that he has daunted even, perhaps especially, awestruck biographers. Crouch's eyes are wide open, and he lends his considerable talents to a jazz biography that ranks with the very best, including Robin D. G. Kelley on Thelonious Monk. Though extensively researched, this is less academic, informed by Crouch's extensive knowledge and his deft hand with complex elements of American music. The occasional cliche or clunky wording is offset by more frequent profundities, e.g., the double consciousness so fundamental to jazz: the burdens of the soul met by the optimism of the groove. Parker's influences are made clear (Lester Young and Roy Eldridge, sure, but much here on the often-overlooked Buster Smith and guitarist Biddy Fleet), as is the vital context of Parker's hometown, the wide-open and musically fertile Kansas City. This is, it must be noted, the first of two projected volumes. Those waiting expectantly for Crouch's take on Parker's full maturity (and drug-ridden decline, though foreshadowed here) and his classic collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie and others will need to be patient.--Levine, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist