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Salute to the Centennial of Legendary Saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker

Photos &-Article by Luke Harbur

2020 will go down as one of the most memorable years in America’s recent history. From the downward and upward curves of COVID-19 cases, to continued civil unrest related to race and election outcomes in our country, each person has sought to find moments of peace and quiet.

The American Jazz Museum seeks to provide a safe space for education and reflection. We also seek to create events centering on celebration and joy. For us, 2020 marks the centennial birthday of legendary saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Born on August 29th, 1920 in Kansas City, KS, Parker was the king of bebop, a subgenre of jazz music that emerged in the early to mid-1940s. Although COVID-19 shut down the museum from March through the middle of June, that did not stop us from creating programs which kept the spirit of Parker alive. Our events became featured in The New York Times as well as across seas in The London Jazz Times. Here’s what we did, with pictures to complement the timeline:


April 2020: the museum and its jazz club, The Blue Room, designed a digital song contest to pay homage to Charlie Parker. The top three winners of the two featured categories were awarded a small stipend. All submissions may be viewed by searching “American Jazz Museum Charlie Parker Song Contest” on YouTube.


July 19, 2020: in partnership with Chuck Haddix of UMKC Libraries and LaBudde Collections, the museum opened “Saxophone Supreme: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker.” The centennial exhibition features groundbreaking research, album covers, sheet music, and rare audio selections related to the musician and is on display at the museum through Dec. 31, 2020.





August 7, 2020: the museum brought back an in-person, socially distanced version of Jazz Storytelling, our longest running public program. The event, made for pre-K and kindergarteners to learn the basics of jazz music, celebrated the life and legacy of Charlie Parker. All episodes of Jazz Storytelling may be viewed by searching “American Jazz Museum Jazz Storytelling” on YouTube.



August 21, 22, 28, and 29, 2020: the museum hosted a mini, in-person, socially distanced music series in the Gem Theater called “Charlie Parker Centennial Concerts.” Excluding performances in the evenings, all performances from the event’s 12-hour jam session on Aug. 29 may be viewed on the American Jazz Museum’s Facebook page under the Videos tab.



October 2, 2020: the museum hosted a live painting session next to Robert Graham’s “Bird Lives,” the Charlie Parker bust behind the museum.



November 2020: in partnership with Chuck Haddix of UMKC Libraries and LaBudde Collections, the museum officially published “Saxophone Supreme: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker” as an online exhibit through Google Arts & Culture. Visit artsandculture.google.com and search “American Jazz Museum” to explore the exhibit now.


As our institution continues to evolve, we hope you can turn to us as a beacon of arts and education in the Kansas City community. To learn how you can support our growth, visit americanjazzmuseum.org/support




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