Wednesday, March 12, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt five)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Or Americans thought of the broad center of the country, which italicized its difference from the East when three events took place in 1876: when Custer and the Seventh Cavalry got their ashes hauled at Montana’s Little Bighorn; when Jack McCall blew Wild Bill Hickok’s brains out in Deadwood, South Dakota, as the lawman held a hand of aces and eights; and when the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang was fed an afternoon meal of lead in an abortive raid in Northfield, Minnesota. Cowboys. Indians. Gunfighters. Bank and train robbers.

Like all jazz musicians, Charlie Parker embodied many things: three hundred years of black American dance and music, everything from slave cabin steps and field hollers to the melodic-rhythmic revolution of improvised phrases spun out by Louis Armstrong and the arpeggiated harmonic dazzle of Art Tatum. That long march to improvised sophistication began in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, when African slaves were first brought to North America. But this particular western dog and innovator had his roots in that forgotten American West of Kansas and Missouri—that world of explorers, horses, wars, and settlers. His bloodline was both cosmopolitan and all-American, mingling African, Indian (which is also to say Asian), and European stock. And the Wild West in which he grew up was shaped by the same three sources that constituted his genetic line.

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