Summary

No musician has lived a more transformational, or more tragic, life than Charlie Parker, one of the most talented and influential figures of the twentieth century. From the start of his career in the late 1930s, Parker was a new kind of American artist: a revolutionary musician who internalized all of popular music and blew it back through his alto saxophone "at the tempo of emergency"-even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would ultimately contribute to his death at thirty-four.

Yet no writer has fully captured the arc and texture of Parker's personal story . . . until now. Kansas City Lightning, the first in a two-volume life of Parker by Stanley Crouch, draws on decades of original interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members to reveal Parker as he emerged from the landscapes-literal and artistic-that he inhabited. A precocious child, shy yet self-possessed, Charlie ventured early into the nightlife of wide-open Depression Kansas City, a veritable stomping ground for such bandleaders as Walter Page, Bennie Moten, and Moten's successor, Count Basie, the king of Kansas City swing. Inspired by saxophonists Lester Young and Chu Berry, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and his mentor Buster Smith, Parker endured initial humiliation on the bandstand-yet persevered until he mastered the idiom and began to transcend it.

Kansas City Lightning follows Parker from the "freak shows" and "spook breakfasts" of late-night Kansas City, to the segregated union halls of Chicago, and finally to New York's Harlem ballrooms. Most intimately, it brings us into young Charlie Parker's family circle, as he plunged headlong into a very adult world-lured by both music and drugs, torn between his oddly protective mother and Rebecca Ruffin, the impressionable young woman whose romance with Charlie is at the bittersweet heart of this story.

With the musical wisdom of a lifetime jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an indispensable social critic, and the narrative skill of a writer at the height of his powers, Crouch brings Parker back to glorious, surprising, and deeply moving life.



Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker is the first installment in the long-awaited portrait of one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century, from Stanley Crouch, one of the foremost authorities on jazz and culture in America.

Throughout his life, Charlie Parker personified the tortured American artist: a revolutionary performer who used his alto saxophone to create a new music known as bebop even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would lead to his death at the age of thirty-four.

Drawing on interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members, Kansas City Lightning recreates Parker’s Depression-era childhood; his early days navigating the Kansas City nightlife, inspired by lions like Lester Young and Count Basie; and on to New York, where he began to transcend the music he had mastered. Crouch reveals an ambitious young man torn between music and drugs, between his domineering mother and his impressionable young wife, whose teenage romance with Charlie lies at the bittersweet heart of this story.

With the wisdom of a jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an acclaimed social critic, and the narrative skill of a literary novelist, Stanley Crouch illuminates this American master as never before.