Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




The young people who became what Time-Life pronounced

 “the beat generation” grew up with contemporary jazz.




CDs of Charlie Parker

The Essential Charlie Parker  /  Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1948  / Charlie Parker with Strings /

Diz ‘N Bird at Carnegie Hall  / The Best of Charlie Parker  /  Jazz at Massey Hall  / Boss Bird

South of the Border  /  Confirmation  / Ornithology YardBird Suite

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Bird and the Beats

By Ted Joans


This is a bit about the Beats and The Bird. It is not my total recall of all that happened during my street schooling nights and days (1951-1961) in New York City, especially the fabulous borough of Manhattan’s Greenwich’s Village. When I arrived in that “madhattan” scene it was on the eve of a revolution, Bird was an important part (if not THE most important part) of that united stated American fine art revolution. His followers were musicians and legions of hipsters. 

I “enrolled” first years in Harlem, the streets of that mighty active district were swinging then, also it was not dangerous. Thus Jack Kerouac and other white hipsters who sought first hand knowledge of true Blues people (read Leroi Jones’ book) could pay some dues in the night and day classes of Harlem with a certain amount of impunity. There were black cats on the scene then that should have been given Ph.D.’s in Hipsterism.

These men (and women) knew more about the how/who/what/where/why and when of the human condition than all the four square walled university professors on earth. Babs Gonzales should have been so awarded and rewarded, plus seriously listened to and published. Cats like Babs taught me and many others. Those hip ladies and hipper-than-thou gents were often seen in all the jazz clubs, jazz concerts, and hip parties. Some made their living by hustling, others had offensive “jobs” downtown. Pool halls were class rooms often frequented, so were barber shops (and “beauty salon” parlors). 

I sold used records that I obtained from juke box companies and made all the Harlem rounds, met some of the best minds of yesteryears and my generation. These people taught me the genius of survival, after all I had just graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in the Fine Art of painting, but that hadn’t prepared me for taking a bite of the Apple!

After a year in Harlem I “graduated” to further my studies elsewhere, I being a painter (by academic schooling) chose Greenwich Village U.S.A. The vileness of The village that prevails nowadays did not exist so openly. There were “real’ giants of the Fine Arts down there wayback in them Fifties. My second week in the Village I met Jackson Pollock, the Abe Lincoln of American painting. He dug jazz. Writer Robert G. Reisner befriended me because my complete devotion to Charlie Parker could naturally match his. Reisner had one of the most complete bop records collections. 

He introduced me to Marhall Stearns who at that time was teaching a course in Jazz History at the New School for Social Research I also heard W.E.B. Dubois lecture at the now defunct Jefferson School of Social Science. Edgar Varese introduced me to the great sculptor Alexander Calder. I gave him a copy of my book of beat poems. The jazz clubs in the Village were flourishing, but there were not as many as there are now. Harlem had more Black music in those years.

Now, I better backtrack a bit, and hip you to my first time of live-ear-hear Bird. It was in Louisville Kentucky at a skating rink for Black people (although some hip whites frequented the place). Bird was playing with Jay McShann’s orchestra.

If I remember well, I do believe that Don DeMichael (former (Downbeat ed) was in the small intense group of “ofays” on hand that crowded night. I am positive that he did witness Dizz’s big band starring Chano Pozo at Dixieland where I spent some dues years before migrating a bit farther north to Indiana. All the great Black bands came through Indianapolis and Louisville, and many of the bop giants and other jazz giants were working in those On The Road orchestras. 

When I met Miles Davis he was with Billy Eckstine, when I met Fats Navarro he was with Lionel Hampton, when I met Kenny Dorham he was with, when I met, when I met, ad infinitum. That was my early jazz schooling, ask Dexter Gordon (he calls me “the last of the great hipsters”). Lee Konitz, or Dizzy Gillespie, the latter I attempted to imitate during a brief period of bopping around on the trumpet. Nuff said about my side of the fence, the time has come to deal with the Beat generation and its indebtedness to Bird.

The young people who became what Time-Life pronounced “the beat generation” grew up with contemporary jazz. Of course there was schmaltzy pop corn music nightly and daily being dished out for white America’s consumption, but wise ofays fished around in the deep dark waters of jazz. At the beginning there was only a small minority interested in poetry, jazz, and contemporary painting. But the hipsters spread the contagious words about what was really happening that had positive values. 

Some of the poets often “preached” their poems, or attempted to “blow” the poem as they were playing a sax or trumpet. All these poets were on Bird or Prez. The latter was the bridge that many poets crossed into Bird’s land, thus arriving hip. I for one, made “blowing” my poems into a profession, thanks to Langston Hughes, who was jazz poetry founder. Old Kenneth Rexroth was like the Paul Whiteman of jazz poetry and Kenneth Patchen was the Bix Beiderbecke. Patchen was hip enough to do an album with Charlie Mingus’ early group.

San Francisco was the first place that the Beat generation started doing great poetry readings in clubs and coffee shops. It was in Frisco that Allen Ginsberg first exploded his masterpiece Howl on the world. That long hard dues paid poem was influenced by Lester Young’s tenor sax solos. Ginsberg, a great poet, is not a jazz poet. He is influenced by jazz in certain poems and often in the way that he reads his poetry. Todays he has started On the Road to blues. In fact John Hammond has cut an album of Ginsburg’s blues poetry. He reads well but his singing is terrible. The album has yet to be released.

Back in the good/ole-bad/old days we often read our poems with jazz recordings. It wasn’t rare to see a poet walking to his coffee shop reading gig carrying a portable phonograph and an attaché case full of poetry and a few records. Bird was our main man of music, and many of us used his recordings to fly on. Jack Kerouac was the first white poet that I met that was hip to bird, and Stanley Gould, a New York born hipster knew Bird personally before any of us. 

These two white cats along with poet Gregory Corso (who published in his first book of poem The Vestal Lady On Brattle, perhaps the greatest poem yet dedicated to Charlie Parker) were the true Bird watchers in the Village at that time. Allen Ginsburg, like early Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) didn’t consistently fly on Bird swinging wings. Poets Steve Tropp and his wife Gloria were religiously into jazz. Bird was divine to them, and Bird could do no wrong. Other poets that were influenced by Bird were Jim Lyons, Donald Brandt, Joel Axelrod, Tom Postell, Dan Propper, Howard Hart, Jack Micheline, Philip Lamantia, Robert Cordier, and badass Ray Bremser who was the fastest word singer/swinger in the Village. 

There were of course some square poets on the scene at that time, for example, William Morris from London. This turkey read and pretended poetry backed by recordings from Dave Brubeck. Dick Woods from Mississippi was sorta jazzabilly poet, and a living stereotype of Life-Time beatnik. Mixed in with the beat generation poets were the conventional poets; most of their poetry was still kissing Europe’s flabby dead ass. These poets didn’t dig Bird or any kind of jazz. They fucked their fingers academically instead of getting into something with soul. But many of these stone head hyenas are now editors in the lofty toilets of the publishing world.

“Jazz got along without the sax for 25 years, spent the next 15 years trying to get along with it, and took 10 years deciding to discard it altogether. It’s clear now that, except on extraordinary occasions involving extraordinary musicians, there’s no place in hot jazz for the saxophone.”

This perfidious piece of shit was written by John Lucas in Jazz Record 1947. This earless dude perhaps was blind also, for couldn’t he see the shadows of The hawk, Prez, Ben, and Bird swooping all of the place in 1947 and years before that??

It was the job of the poets to counterattack all this dumb dumbness. If this john John Lucas is still on earth, will he please read Leroi Jones’ 1963 prose bit titled “Three Ways to Play the Saxophone.” Here dear reader I shall scatter some little riffs at random, full of facts and feathers: James Dean, hip movie actor sat digging Bird blowing at the Montmartre Club on West 4th Street in the Village, accompanied by the lovely hipstress Stella P., both completely caught up in ornithological travels, all the while new-comer-to-the-actor-world Steve McQueen sat digging Bird and dean whilst photographer WeeGee attempted to photograph the entire hip happening. 

August 1979 in San Francisco, poets Nancy Joyce Peters, Philip Lamantia, and tedjoans do a homage reading to Charlie Parker. The private affair was packed with poets and hipsters. Bird Lives presentations have also happened in Holland, Germany, and France, even a few times in Africa. The poets take the words for homage to Bird. If there be a Bird of the spoken word, then we must place the hip laurel on the poet Bob Kaufman. He is the poet who consistently writes about Bird in his poetry, and he lives Birdlore (but no junk!). Bob gave his first son the name Parker.

The other Bobs who indulged wisely in the flaming feathers of Charlie Parker back in those Beat G days were Bob Parent, a very good photographer and hipster, unlike Fred MacDarrah who wasn’t hip at all to jazz or Bird, but Fred did produce two valid books: The Beat Scene and The Artists World, plus started a lucrative business of Rent A Beatnik. Another Bob was Robert C. Reisner, a hipster who taught jazz at Brooklyn College and ran the hippest weekend jazz club in New York at that Beat G time: The Open Door, at the corner of west Broadway and 4th Street, in the Village. Gilbert Milstein for being hip enough to recognize the merits and the avant garde living conditions Kerouac’s On the Road warned America. He reviewed the book for the N.Y. Times Book Review 1957. 

Max Gordon who allowed Jack Kerouac to do an automatic happening down there in his Holy hollow of jazz: The Village Vanguard.

Here I advise the reader to place Manhattan Transfer’s “Birdland” on their machine and dig it while reading the following. 1951, we dug Bird and his group playing nightly at Birdland, opposite was Lee Konitz and his group. We dug, wrote poems and some did paintings, and others like Bob Reisner wrote serious articles in Playboy and Esquire on Bird much later. Many of the Beats would only leave the Village to go to hear or to score for soulfood in Harlem.

Bird was the personification of many things for poets and hipsters of the Beat G. The hipsters knew that America extracts great prices from its mythical figures, therefore the heavy dues Bird paid. We, especially myself personally, attempted to alleviate some of the hassles for Bird by at least giving him a key to my #4 Barrow Street (one room cold water) flat, where Bashner, a saintly hip philosopher (later Bird’s road manager) dwelled.

I also gave big costume balls to raise money for rent. At one such party Bird attended, it was dedicated to surrealism, Dada, and the Mau Mau. Bird arrived late but he hastily improvised his own Mau Mau image, plus aided other hipsters. He insisted that we play no recordings of his, or Dizzy Gillespie “his worthy constituent.” So we played other hip things even popular stuff of Slim Gaillard, Harry The Hipster Gibson and Louis Jordan. Life magazine cover girl Vicki Dugan was the Queen of the affair. Montgomery Clift took invitations at the door for awhile. It was held in a photographer’s studio and we earned enough money to pay rent for a year.

A few years before I’d seen Bird coming to Washington Square Park with his family. Chan was a very hip woman and was envied by many hipper-than-thou chicks, black and white. Bird seemed to be happier during that time. The Beat G.’s indebtedness to Bird was, shall we say, enormously underrated by many writers, such as Norman Mailer in his White Negro, a book that was needed (for squares) and heeded. But mailer was not hip, although he surrounded himself with hipsters like Bill Walker, Dick Dabney, and Lester Blackston. Mailer’s book of poetry is perhaps the worst to ever be published by a bigtime publishing house. We laughed before his face.

Hipster Sy Krim was hipper than Mailer, he therefore wrote some very wise bits on the Beat G., plus he put out the very first Beat anthology that became a “Beat Seller.” Herbert Gold was typical of the misunderstanding of what the beat scene was all about, he too, perhaps never heard or deeply dug Bird. Gold wrote in his “Beat Mystique” 1958 for Playboy: “Hipsterism began in a complex effort of the Negro to escape his self-imposed role of happy-go-lucky animal. A few highly self-conscious urban Negro men sought to imitate ‘white’ diffidence, or coolness, or beatness.” For gold Gold was dumber than Lucas of 1947.

No one who was ever touched by Bird was ever the same. Too bad that many of America’s to pop writers at the Bird time never deeply dug the man and his music. Painters Harvey Cropper and Walter Williams tried to turn Bird onto the art of painting, but his efforts are nowhere near his genius in music. I once asked him to write some poems, but he had no eyes for writing poetry. He dug all the arts and I never heard him put anybody down, no matter what scene they were into. He gladly had time for beggars as well as young idolizing musicians. He took from those he loved as well as from those he only had just met. Bird shared his great music with the world, so the world owed him, and he never collected. He understood what the Bird G. was about at the core, that we wanted to be a swinging group of NEW people, like his music, intent on international joy. 

We broke out of America’s squareness just as Bird had done. We as an unorganized movement of individuals freed ourselves of the sickness of mass consumerism and pop culture conformity.

We were a bit luckier than the Woodstock hippies (who followed one decade later) for the mass media was ready and waiting for them, this evil international business steered them into a fashionable vogue, and have controlled every direction that youth has turned ever since, with few exceptions. An international conspiracy was pulled on the hippies’ ears musically. They all got cheated aesthetically (excluding the Beatles and Bob Dylan) and they have yet to recover. Jazz is the only music (in its pure unadulterated form, therefore no Con-fusion) that can save them from violent stress-filled future, and jazz could restore their audio senses. Bird was a bringer of beautiful music, an alto saxophone

Poetry. Spontaneous poetry, the essential of that poetry was to share it by living it, not in disrespect of self and others, but in complete active state of embracing the marvelous. Live like a Bird solo, which is an audio cyclical surreality. “Bird Lives,” we wrote on the walls of New York City wayback when we learned that he had gone-on/flown on. But he had turned an entire generation of poets and hipsters all over the earth ON to SOMETHING OF GREAT VALUE: To freedom!!

Source: Coda ( June 1981)

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 Don’t let the minute spoil the hour. –Ted Joans

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Ted Joans (1928-2003), born Theodore Jones on July 4 on a riverboat in Cairo, Illinois, was a painter, a trumpeter, a jazz poet, travel writer, author of more than thirty-five books, including Teducation, The Hipsters (a book of collages), Black Pow Wow Jazz Poems, Funky Jazz Poems, Beat Poems, All of T.J. and No More, The Truth, The Truth, Afrodisia. After marrying a woman named Joan, he changed his name from Jones to Joans. 

His parents had worked on Mississippi river runs. According to the story told, his father, a riverboat entertainer, put him off the boat in Memphis at age twelve and gave him a trumpet. In 1943, Joans’ father was pulled off a streetcar and killed by white workers during the Detroit race riots. 

He earned a BFA degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University in 1951 and then joined “the Bohemia of Greenwich Village, USA,” where he was associated with the Beat generation of the 1950s.

Along with Kerouac, Corso, Ginsberg, and Amiri Baraka, Joans began his poetic career in the artistic haven of Greenwich Village in the late fifties and early sixties. He was a friend of Beat icons Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Joans was mentored by Langston Hughes and encouraged by Allan Ginsberg but never received early  fame during a career that spanned more than 40 years. 

Apart from Beat (surrealistic) influences, Joans expanded his work and embraced more serious jazz-inflected sounds. As a jazz afficionado, Joans often wrote in the spirit and idiom of jazz. He considered himself a jazz missionary. His work is characterized by a black consciousness, a strong rhythm, and a musical language and sensibility closely linked to the blues and to the best of the avant-garde jazz. His style is thus associated with the oral tradition of African-American writing which exemplifies oral and jazz traditions. He explored many themes, including anti-militarism, life of a black expatriate, and the black American in search of African roots.

In 1955 he and some friends stunningly denied the death of jazz great Charlie Parker by scrawling “BIRD LIVES” all over New York.

“He used to rent himself out to upper-middle class parties as a beatnik,” recalled George Bowering, Canada’s poet laureate. “He was very comic.” Joans lived in Paris for several decades and traveled widely, often with a pocket full of garlic cloves because, he once said, they were “powerful preventative medicine.”

Though one of the the originals, Joans has been rarely included in Beat anthologies. He can be found in Ann Charters’ The Beat Reader, the hardcover version but not the paperback versions, yett one of his phrases is the title of one of Charters’ sections. Joans is surrealistis writer, one of the originals, but he is not to be found in those anthologies either. Most anthologies of African American writing (including the big Norton Anthology of African American Literature, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay) exclude him. Yet, he is considered an influential figure in American and African-American literature. Amazingly, you will find him in Women of the Beat Generation, edited by Brenda Knight.

Joan was not a careerist; he was in search of the marvelous. He was an independent thinker.

A wanderer, he recited his poems in coffeehouses in New York and in the middle of Sahara Desert. He has lived in Harlem, New York, Bloomington, Indiana, Haarlem of The Netherlands, and even Timbuktu. His poetry has achieved international acclaim, and it is widely respected throughout Africa, Europe, and the United States. Joans is a considerable visual artist, one of his paintings, “Bird Lives,” hangs in San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

 For the past few decades Joans spent summers in Europe and winters in Africa. At his death he was living in Canada. 

He had moved to Vancouver several years ago and remained a prolific writer until his death. Joans was found dead in his Vancouver, British Columbia, apartment on May 7, said T. Paul St. Marie, an entertainer and family friend. He had been in poor health with diabetes. Joans was survived by 10 children. He was cremated with no funeral, as he wished. 

In 1998 the Bancroft Library arranged the purchase of the Ted Joans papers with the help of the Richard Henry Chabot Dieckman Fund. The papers is a wonderful panoply of writings dating back to the early 1960s, some published, some unpublished. There are collages; writings in English, French, and German; articles; poems; essays; notes; ephemera; magazine appearances; reviews; a draft of his guidebook, A Black Man Guides All Y’allo Africa; a draft autobiography; and other works that defy classification. It is bewildering and delightful: five large cartons of material that is original, novel, and not well known. 

There is strong interest in this archive in the African Studies Department as well as the English Department.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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update 7 January 2012




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