Charlie Parker House

Art & Culture | History

Home & History of a Jazz Legend

Charlie Parker Jazz East VIllage History

About Charlie Parker House

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • Charlie “Bird” Parker, a composer and alto saxophonist, occupied this Alphabet City row house in the early 1950s, at the peak of his career.
  • Originally from Kansas City, Parker moved to Manhattan around 1929 to pursue his dream. In over twenty years living in New York, his four-year stint in this house is the only time he really settled into a home. He was notorious for moving every few months, living near whatever clubs he played.
  • A leading figure in evolving bebop, a fast-paced subgenre of jazz, some of Parker’s biggest hits include “Billie’s Bounce,” “Yardbird Suite” and “Anthropology.”
  • Built in 1849, the building displays a commemorative brass plaque from the National Register of Historic Places and is architecturally significant, as row houses were rarely designed in the Gothic Revival style. Note the double wood doors, the trefoil relief beneath the projecting box cornice and the pointed archway with clustered colonettes.
  • Legend has it that Parker pawned his saxophone to fuel his well-known heroin habit, forcing him to play a plastic Grafton alto sax on the live album, Jazz at Massey Hall. His drug habit wasn’t exactly a secret he tried to keep; he named a song after his drug dealer, “Moose the Mooche.”
  • After his death, Parker became an icon, not only to the jazz community, but to New York City. “Bird lives” was spray-painted throughout Greenwich Village and along the walls of the subway for years. Poems, albums, books and movies have all been released in his honor, and if you’re on Avenue B between 7th and 10th Street, you’re on Charlie Parker Place.
  • Just across the street from his ground floor apartment, Tompkins Square Park has held an annual festival in his honor since 1993. The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival celebrates his life and work, featuring performances by friends of his as well as younger jazz musicians he’s inspired. Recently, his native Kansas City launched an annual Charlie Parker Celebration in the same vein.

Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie

Carpe City Trivia

Behind every great man is a great woman

The Baroness of Jazz

It was at Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s Fifth Avenue home where Charlie Parker died, and she immediately found herself thrust in the spotlight. A descendant of the infamous Rothschild family and member of the Free French Army, the Baroness “Nica” was a mysterious figure to anyone outside the jazz industry. A wild child and black sheep of the family, Pannonica frequented New York jazz clubs and befriended many of the musicians in the scene. Going a step further, she was instrumental in helping many careers, most notably that of Thelonious Monk, with whom she had a 28-year relationship. She would open her home to artists, protect them if they were being discriminated against and even pay their expenses when they couldn’t. Behind every great man is a great woman, and behind every great jazz musician in the ‘50s and ‘60s was the Baroness of Jazz.

Nica’s great niece, Hanna Rothschild, wrote a book on her life which was then turned into a TV documentary which offers interesting insight into the Rothschild family and the Baroness’s scandalous life.

The Baroness:
The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild and Jazz’s Secret Muse
on Amazon

The origin of the hipster

What do you think of when you hear the word “hipster”? Probably a twenty-something with a groomed mustache and lumbersexual attire who mixes a darn good bespoke cocktail. Although the term has made a comeback with the ‘90s and ‘00s alternative scene, it actually originated with the “hep cats” of the jazz generation. If you know your jazz, then you are probably familiar with Cab Calloway the talented singer, dancer and bandleader who performed at the infamous Cotton Club in Harlem. Calloway was a charming, cunning linguist and he and his fellow jazz musicians created a whole new lexicon of their own. In 1939, Calloway published this lingo as Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive, which included the term “Hep Cat,” a guy who knows all the answers, understands jive and the ins-and-outs of the jazz scene. As well as the words “Hip” and “Got Your Boots On” and words opposite of hip such as “Square,” “Icky” and “Jeff.” This little book, whose words were later incorporated into songs, became the first dictionary authored by an African-American.

By: Owen Norris & Christi Scofield

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