Charlie Parker headshot

Charlie Parker

March, 1955 wasn’t the first time Charlie Parker failed to show for a gig. Arriving late and playing borrowed horns were par for the course with Bird. In the past few years, though, his behavior had become more and more erratic and both his physical and mental health were in decline. Parker attempted suicide twice in 1954. Maybe no one, including Storyville proprietor George Wein, was all that surprised when Parker failed to show on March 10 to open his week in Boston.

Parker lived in New York, but because his cabaret card had been revoked in 1951, he frequently visited the Hub. Between 1951 and 1954, Parker appeared five times as a leader at the Hi-Hat and twice more at Storyville, along with various other club dates. He worked as a single, usually playing with house trios and an added trumpeter. The exception seemed to be the drummer—Roy Haynes got many of these Boston gigs, so perhaps Parker asked for him. But bassists Bernie Griggs and Jimmy Woode, and trumpeters Joe Gordon and Herb Pomeroy, each worked at least twice on Hi-Hat and Storyville dates with Parker then.

Aware of Parker’s inconsistencies, Wein added a second band to the bill for March 10-16, that of Lee Konitz. No Bird on the 10th, no Bird on the 11th… and the 12th was Saturday night, and the crowd was there to hear Parker. No Bird. Out came Konitz. The crowd booed—not a reflection on Konitz, but on Parker’s absence.

We all know what happened. Just about the time Parker should have hit at Storyville, he died in the New York apartment of Baroness Nica von Koenigswarter. It took several days for the news to make it to Boston, but by then Konitz had moved on, and Count Basie’s band was at Storyville. His fans, of course, were stunned. I don’t know when “Bird Lives” first appeared on Boston walls.

I had hoped to find Lee Konitz’s marvelous unaccompanied “Blues for Bird,” from the 1965 Charlie Parker Memorial Concert, for this post. I heard Konitz play it at the 1369 in the mid-eighties, when he performed there, alone, on Charlie Parker’s birthday.