Weekly Posting, May 1st, 2020

Bird Age 15

The following is the second half of Addie Parker’s remembrance, as told to Robert Reisner, with some reordering for clarity.

The Gospel of Adeline, Part 2

Charles always thought he could make it in Kansas City, but after he and Rebecca disagreed he had to leave and went to Chicago for a while and from there to New York. He was in New York when he took those drugs..
Charles’s father died when he was 17. We had been separated for years. Some lady stabbed him during a drunken quarrel. I got a hold of Charles and brought him home for the funeral. Charles could hardly recognize the body it was in such horrible shape from loss of blood. “Mama, what made him do it?” Charles asked. I said, “He liked the lady, I guess.” They put her in jail till he was buried, then they let her go. She drank herself to death a year later.

This fellow came to the house in a cab and asked for Charlie Parker. Charles was asleep then and I asked what it was all about. “When Charlie wakes up give this to him,” he said, handing me some white squares of paper with something wrapped up in it. I didn’t know what it was at the time. A friend of Charles was at the house and he noticed how Charles had changed. My Charles was asleep, and this boy said to me, “Look how Parker is breathing. Charles is loaded with something.” His eyes were open at times, his breathing was heavy, and his tongue was lolling out of his mouth.
We had some terrible quarrels, and I said, “One house isn’t built for two nasty people. You know your mother loves you, but you’ve got to obey mother or else you’ve got to leave here.” The most he cost me is when he went to New York. He did say that he wished Jay McShann would come to New York again. He liked Jay, and Jay always lifted up his bands. When he met Dizzy, of course, things changed.

I didn’t hear him play before he left Kansas City, but when he came back here in 1952 and he was out at Tootie’s Mayfair Club, I went out there every night. Whenever the band was playing at the Mayfair they would take me out in a car. I’d get out of my uniform, dress up, and the cats would call for me. I sometimes stayed up a whole night to hear Charles. We’d go out there and have the time of our lives. I was so dead the next day I didn’t even want to get up. I used to tell him when he’d come home that he could have the upstairs, and I take the downstairs, or we’d go down south somewhere and buy a home. He was a dear child, just lovely. Sunday was his day to call, and he called me every weekend. 

When Norman Granz wanted to make those records using oboes, flutes and those, he knew he was going to the top. He’d say, “Mama, I’m going to the top, my name is going to be in lights, and you were going to be there to see it,“ and I just couldn’t hold him. Charles never let anything go to his head. He’d say, “you don’t have to ‘mister’ me.” Norman used to take such pains with him and talked to him for nearly two hours on the phone. In 1953 Norman gave him $1,000 one night. I said, “Why do you have to spend it all?” “Mama, it’s high living. It costs to go with the cats.” “There isn’t anybody a big shot,“ I told him. “You spend your money, and what do you get? A kick in the teeth.”“Mama, if I saved my money, the wives would take it away for me.”

Once when Doris was sick, Charles told her to go home, stay a while, and then come back. He wanted more children. “Mama,” he says, “after I’m gone, the Parkers will still live.“ I think the world of Doris. I run my telephone to $25 that time trying to get him to live right. “Mother wants you to treat Doris right.” When Doris left, Chan moved in. Chan once called me up and said “If I didn’t get him, I think I would die.”

When I graduated Nursing School in 1949, he sent me $300 and told me it was for uniforms or whatever I needed. I guess I picked the wrong profession, because there is so much suffering. Every day when someone is hurt and needs help it takes something out of you. They’d tell you someone needed help, and you go to help them, and they’d be dead, and that was always a shock.  

I thought it wasn’t nothing but an overdose of dope. Charles called me just before he died. He called that Sunday and said he was fine. I talked to both of them. Nica said, “How are you? I hope to meet you sometime.“ I said to Charles, “If you’re sick in any way let me know.” He said they wanted to give him an electroencephalogram. “Charles,“ I said, “don’t take it. Come home to mother. I work in the finest hospital in Kansas City, and I will have it done if it is necessary.”

Chan called me and said, “Did you know that Charles had passed?“ I answered, “Yes I know,” because Doris had called before and said, “Parky, sit down, because this is a shocking thing. Are you alone?,“ And I said, “Oh no, Charles isn’t dead?“ 

He was stuck down in some white morgue. Doris talked to the attendant and he advised her to put him in a burlap bag – how could they put my child in a burlap bag? Doris had called me and said, “We found him; I’ve taken care of everything” It was Dizzy and his wife who was with her. She stayed out at Tommy Potter‘s house. She called me every evening.

They almost buried him in Potter’s Field. But I’d have had him dug up and brought here. Norman had the body sent to me, and I didn’t have to pay a penny; he was swell. All my friends at the hospital, white and colored, said they never saw anyone put away as nice as he was and I really appreciate what Norman did for me.

Did you see that story in Playboy? Doris sent it to me. I was so hurt I couldn’t even finish it, haven’t read it yet. They certainly told some big ones. Said he looked like a scarecrow, and all that. Whenever he needed anything, all he had to do was call, and it was there. That’s what I worked for and what I lived for, that boy.

Chan wrote me a letter after Charles passed. She claimed her boy was Charles‘s, and I know that wasn’t so because he was four or five months old when Charles met her. [Addie seems to be referring to Chan’s daughter, Kim.] After he passed she wrote me that she meant that it wasn’t Charles‘s but he had accepted him. That’s different. I just loved Doris. I never saw Chan in my life, but she’s got little Bird, and the money is coming in, and I guess she doesn’t mind.

I can hardly talk about Charles, it hurts so much. Every time I see a picture or a letter from him, it just hurts. They’re all locked up in that trunk of his. I washed all the pictures and frames and wrapped them up and put them away. I can’t look at them. If you break an arm or a leg you can fix it, but there’s no mending a  broken heart.

The End

As we conclude Addie Parker’s tribute to her son, it makes sense for today’s musical offering to reflect Bird’s Kansas City roots. The Jay McShann Orchestra was the last great band to come out of Kansas City, just before the indescribably corrupt Pendergast regime was taken down. The band was both home and family to Bird during the most crucial period of his development. As a “territory band”, they toured for years in relative obscurity, but made a spectacular debut at New York’s Savoy Ballroom in February, 1942.

For most New York jazz musicians, who considered themselves the most sophisticated in the world, this was their first exposure to Bird and his revolutionary ideas. Bird and Dizzy Gillespie had met once before, a few years earlier, but nothing seemed to come of it. It was a different story the second time around. Diz was among the many advanced swing players bewitched by Bird’s conception, and they immediately developed a close bond that lasted for four very eventful years.

Although the complete radio broadcast from the Savoy offers many wonders, starting with the fact that it even exists, one number stands out: “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” It encapsulates all that was exciting about big band music as it leads up to Bird’s solo, which then renders everything before it obsolete. If you want to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and experience what it was like to hear Bird for the first time, there’s no better opportunity than this. By the way, it may sound as though his solo is over, but stick around through the modulation, because Bird comes back in again to play out the chart (quoting “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” in the process)!

“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” Jay McShann Orchestra, Savoy Ballroom, 1942

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