Charlie "Bird" Parker (August 29, 1920- March 12, 1955) was a famous jazz saxophonist who made huge contributions to jazz music.
Born in Kansas City, Kansas and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Parker grew up listening to jazz bands like Count Basie and Bennie Moten; this is when he made the alto saxophone his instrument of choice.
Parker moved to New York City and, with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Kenny Clarke and many others, was one of the principal creators of the music that came to be called bebop. Building on the innovations of the preceding generation of players--especially Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young--Parker constructed a personal style that was massively influential: his blindingly fast, rhythmically assymmetrical lines could baffle and amaze the listener, yet closer inspection reveals how formidably well-constructed they are, without a superfluous note; his tone was clean, almost vibratoless, yet penetrating and peculiarly intimate; his harmonic ideas were bold and often strikingly dissonant--reaching high up into the 9ths, 11ths or 13ths of chords, making use of rapidly implied passing chords, making use of a range of altered chords and substitute chords. But however thought-out and logical Parker's playing was, however sheerly dazzling it can be--the early "Ko-Ko", recorded for Savoy, is a superb example--he was also one of the great blues players in jazz: the themeless blues improvisation "Parker's Mood" (also recorded for Savoy) is one of the most deeply affecting recordings in jazz, as iconic as Louis Armstrong's classic "West End Blues".
In addition to the musical example he set for other musicians--with his rise in the mid-1940s Parker instantly became a role-model for countless aspiring jazz musicians, and his music remains a fundamental reference-point for jazz players to this day--Parker also set a more problematic example: as a teenager he became involved in drugs, and his heroin addiction ultimately led to his death at the age of 34. Though the noted cause of his death was a bleeding ulcer and pneumonia, the coroner estimated Parker's age to be between 50 and 60! Though it would be wrong to blame Parker too much for the massive drug problems of the jazz scene in the 1950s and 1960s (virtually every major jazz musician from this period fought a personal battle with drug addiction--Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Art Pepper, Jackie McLean, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Frank Morgan, countless others), it's clear that Parker's example did much harm.