A tribute to Charlie Parker

Volume 113, No. 8September, 2013

Arun Luthra

Charlie Parker would have turned 93 this past Aug. 29, and here are a few words as a birthday tribute.

Charlie Parker told Max Roach, who told Cecil Bridgewater, who told me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that your instrument should feel like an extension of yourself – that holding it should feel as comfortable and natural as holding a part of your own body. There is no musician who embodies such instrumental mastery and mastery of music more completely than Charlie Parker.

I first heard Charlie Parker’s music in high school. From the very first, as I tried to copy his playing, analyze his improvisations, and learn about him from books and interviews with those who knew him, I marvelled at his staggering work ethic, his complete dedication to his art and craft, and the perfection of his playing and composing. For me, he embodies the ideal of the complete artist: someone with a brilliant mind, a sense of childlike wonder at life and the world, a loving spirit, an innovative imagination, and a fierce determination to achieve his artistic vision. Every time I make music, I aspire to emulate his spirit and his mindset, and I strive to attain his level of mastery. It’s a dream come true for me to have known and made music with many of my heroes who knew Charlie Parker and played with him. And like all canonical bodies of work, Charlie Parker’s music always offers up new lessons, delightful surprises and profound inspiration at every listen.

Charlie Parker’s heartbreakingly tragic death at the shocking age of only 34 is a sobering reminder of the profoundly hostile and oppressive culture in which Charlie Parker lived and worked. The devastating pain caused by the racism, oppression and marginalization he faced must certainly have been a principal reason for the self-destructive addictions he suffered from, which ultimately led to his death.

Charlie Parker’s legacy must surely also include the knowledge of our collective responsibility to create a society and a culture where everyone is valued, appreciated, respected and recognized for their accomplishments, and where we all live with dignity.

Bird lives!

Saxophonist Arun Luthra is a longtime member of Local 802. His Web site is