September 26, 2014


“Don't let them bury me in Kansas City,” Charlie Parker told his wife Chan.

   Bird got his wish. He is not buried in Kansas City, he is buried right here in Inter-City, at Lincoln Cemetery next to his mother Addie in Unincorporated Blue Summit.

   Charlie “Bird” Parker was born August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, KS. The saxophonist got his start playing Kansas City nightclubs in the late 1930's and through collaboration with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pioneered the highly improvisational form of jazz known as “bebop”. Miles Davis once said “You can sum up the history of jazz in four words. “Louis Armstrong Charlie Parker”. Charlie Parker died March 12, 1955 in New York. He was only 34 years old.

   For many years now, local musicians and jazz enthusiasts have gathered at Lincoln Cemetery on the last Sunday in August to pay tribute to Bird. Although the size of the gathering can sometimes be depressingly small, this year was different. Sponsored by KC Jazz ALIVE and in partnership with Jazz Friends, Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors and the American Jazz Museum, “A Kansas City Charlie Parker Celebration” took place at many venues in the area from August 14 through August 30, culminating with a “21 Sax Salute” in Lincoln Cemetery held on Saturday, August 30 and Sunday August 31.   

A local group called “Top of the Bottoms” which models itself after traditional, New Orleans Mardis Gras Krewes kicked off the festivities with an elaborate, colorful and moving Second Line funeral procession.

The graveside serenade was joined by local saxophonists, trumpeters, percussionists, and anyone else who wanted to participate in a rousing rendition of Bird's signature tune “Now's The Time”.

Bird's step daughter Kim Parker was in attendance and gave a short talk. She shared her memories which included her not understanding people's reaction to this large black man walking a young white girl to school in New York. She concluded by yelling “WAKE UP, BIRD!”

Poems were read, speeches were given and even some tears were shed. It was a very moving and heartfelt celebration of a short life that gave so much.

Should you find yourself on Blue Ridge Boulevard between Truman Road and Independence Avenue with some time to spare, stop by Lincoln Cemetery, leave a flower or some Mardis Gras beads, and feel free to yell “WAKE UP, BIRD!”

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