Native Bird

Charlie Parker's bebop style energized the KC music scene and changed jazz throughout the world.

   Located in an unincorporated area between Kansas City and Independence, Lincoln Cemetery signifies the final resting place of one of the world’s most influential jazz musicians: Charlie “Yardbird” Parker.

   Parker died in New York City 60 years ago, on March 12, 1955, of complications from pneumonia, a bleeding ulcer, an advanced case of cirrhosis and a heart attack. A heroin addict since he was 16 years old, Parker was a mess.

   But he crammed a lot of living into his 34 troubled years, charming and frustrating those who knew him well, and leaving behind a legacy that changed jazz forever. He pioneered bebop, which involved complex chord progressions and syncopation, and was without peer as an improvisational player.

   Born in Kansas City, Kan., Parker began playing the saxophone at age 11, eventually jamming with local bands in jazz clubs around Kansas City.  In 1939, he moved to New York City, where health and personal troubles continued to plague the tragic genius. By all accounts he did not want to return to the Kansas City area to be buried, but family wishes prevailed.

  Parker’s life ended way too early, but not before he became an icon of the hipster and Beat Generation.


Jazz Notes

  • Clint Eastwood immortalized Parker in the 1988 feature film, “Bird.”
  • Parker got the nicknames “Yardbird” and “Bird” during a trip to Nebraska when a chicken ran out on the highway and was run over. Parker retrieved the dead chicken and asked his hostess in Lincoln if she would cook it for him. She did.
  • Outstanding Parker albums include 1952’s “Bird and Diz” with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie and “The Genius of Charlie Parker,” released posthumously and containing selections recorded between 1944 and 1948.
  • Parker’s grave, which had been unmarked since October 1992 when vandals pried the nameplate off the headstone, was replaced in 1994 with a new tombstone thanks to jazz fans who raised money for it. It features carvings of a saxophone and a dove to symbolize Parker's nickname.