Charlie Parker’s Grafton Saxophone Spends the Summer in Florida
Each year, visitors from all over the world come to the American Jazz Museum for a chance to view Charlie Parker’s plastic Grafton saxophone. Parker played the horn at what was billed as The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever featuring Bird with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and drummer Max Roach performing at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada on May 15th, 1953.
The saxophone was purchased at a London auction in 1994. The acquisition was spearheaded by Kansas City’s 18th & Vine Authority and then mayor Emanuel Cleaver II. Since that time the instrument has become a symbol of the rich history of Kansas City jazz and serves it as a beacon attraction and anchor for the city’s jazz district.
It’s not often that Charlie Parker’s Grafton saxophone, a prized possession of the American Jazz Museum and one of the city’s most important jazz artifacts, is given permission to leave town.
This is a very special event.
The saxophone is Kansas City’s contribution to an event created by Walt Disney Imagineering, The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure, which runs through the summer. On Thursday, February 4th, 2021 the Grafton was taken by AJM Director Rashida Philips and Kansas City Mayor, Quinton Lucas to Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“Ms. Philips has done an outstanding job - jazz, baseball, BBQ, and the wild idea of taking the sax to Florida.” said Mayor Lucas in remarks at the museum on March 12th.
The event highlighted the museum as the city’s jazz community gets back on its feet following a year of shuttered night spots, anxiety, and uncertainty. The museum has been operating for several years under the same arm of city government as Kansas City’s massive Parks and Recreation Department.
“While Bird's away,” said Ms. Philips, “we need to get our house in order.” Suggesting that there will be a suitable “welcome home event” for the Grafton sax, around the anniversary of Charlie Parker’s 101st birthday. The Museum Complex at 18th and Vine is a Mecca for the youth, musicians, jazz buffs, athletes, and baseball fans from around the world.
With many jazz clubs now gone, bars and restaurants formerly focused on the presentation of ‘live’ jazz and blues are set to re-open, it’s going to take time and serious effort on the part of area presenters to re-establish the groove.
Ms. Philips sees a broader view for the Jazz District and an opportunity. While the Grafton is off to Florida, to raise funds here at home, and awareness for the good that emanates from 18th and Vine, “Sensibilities to move forward in life, for mental health, and food for those in need,” said Philips. “Now is the time to support and to build this institution with Spiritual Power and People Power.”
Charlie's Parker’s grandson, Ryan Parker, was on hand for the morning event as well as saxophonist Bobby Watson, who performed on the celebrated Grafton horn during Helzberg Hall’s inaugural concert, a show that featured Diana Krall, Itzhak Perlman, the late Kevin Mahogany, Mr. Watson, and the Kansas City Symphony performing a tribute to the music of Kansas City.
At the museum, Watson spoke briefly about the 1987 resolution brought forth by former U.S. Representative John Conyers Jr., of Michigan, in designating jazz a National Treasure. “Conyers was saying, Jazz is significant,” said Watson, “it is important to all of us, those before us, and those that will carry on.”
“I am a Jazz Messenger,” continued Watson. Referring to his time as Musical Director of drummer, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. “Art followed Islam,” said Watson, “In the Bible they’re called Prophets, and, in the Qur’an, they are Messengers.”
Watson went on to say, “this is where the term ‘Jazz Messengers’ comes from, and we are all here to spread the message of jazz. All the musicians and those who love the music. Some (Messengers) are still in the oven, many Messengers (are right) here in K C.”
“Bird, kept the Grafton with him,” said Watson, “to get him through- just to hold that horn, is a blessing and an honor,” he said. “There’s nothing like live jazz - split second timing - never the same - Bird Lives!”
As the brief ceremony ended, Ms. Philips again took the stage. “Jazz is at the center of Kansas City’s identity, along with barbecue, baseball and sports,” said Phillips. “We want to make sure that jazz is represented in this international story of how jazz lives and (jazz) came to life.”
Text ‘BIRDLIVES’ TO 44-321 between March 12th and August 29th, 2021 to ‘best the nest’ in support the American Jazz Museum while Charlie Parker’s Grafton saxophone is on tour at the Epcot Center in Florida.