Why you knew you could trust Charlie Parker

From a review of recent biographies of Charlie Parker in the LRB:

William Burroughs said that you should never trust anyone who looked the same from photo to photo; Parker can appear a wholly different person across a single roll of film. In one snap he is spruce and trim, alight with boyish glee, like he just found a toy alto in his Xmas stocking; a few weeks later he’s a slumped old man, bursting at the seams, a zoot-suit sofa set out on the kerb to disintegrate in the rain. Spend any time reviewing such images and you come to an unexpected conclusion: our supposed King of Cool is, if anything, notably un-‘iconic’. In a bandstand snap from 1948 it’s bassist Tommy Potter and a razor-cheeked young Miles who look like the hippest cadavers in town. In another band snap, from 1952, the likes of Oscar Peterson and Ben Webster are prince-like, sunny, resplendent; Parker looks thirty years older than his 31 years, an ailing rhino in a crumpled suit. There is a shocking paparazzo pic from 1954 of Parker exiting a police van, entering Bellevue public hospital: filthy suit, shirt awry, trousers ridden up to his mottled knees. In Celebrating Bird, Gary Giddins includes three photos I’d never seen before, taken just before Parker’s death. (Frustratingly, Giddins supplies no background context.) In one, Parker turns his back to the camera and covers his eyes, as if caught in a game of hide-and-seek. (Who with? Behind what shadows and posts?) In another, we see his reflection in a smeary nightclub mirror. In all, he appears spaced-out, placid, playful, gesturing from inside some deeply inaccessible personal beatitude. He looks like a happy ghost.

 

 

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Why you knew you could trust Charlie Parker