Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker is the first installment in the long-awaited portrait of one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century, from Stanley Crouch, one of the foremost authorities on jazz and culture in America.
Throughout his life, Charlie Parker personified the tortured American artist: A revolutionary performer who used his alto saxophone to create a new music known as bebop even as he wrestled with a drug addiction that would lead to his death at the age of thirty-four. Drawing on interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members, Kansas City Lightning re-creates Parker's Depression-era childhood; his early days navigating the Kansas City nightlife, inspired by lions like Lester Young and Count Basie; and on to New York, where he began to transcend the music he had mastered. Crouch reveals an ambitious young man torn between music and drugs, between his domineering mother and his impressionable young wife, whose teenage romance with Charlie lies at the bittersweet heart of this story.
With the wisdom of a jazz scholar, the cultural insights of an acclaimed social critic, and the narrative skill of a literary novelist, Stanley Crouch illuminates this American master as never before.
©2013 Stanley Crouch (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
This book is excellent on so many levels: an erudite but very accessible history of pre-war America; a feels-like-you-are-there view of jazz bands battling for supremacy at the Savoy; a phenomenal account of what its like to hop a train in Kansas City and ride to New York City (and how that train ride is a metaphorical change...not just a geographical one)...and so much more.
This is volume 1 of what will be a 2 volume biography of jazz great Charlie Parker. Author Stanley Crouch does an amazing job of describing the social, political and musical context that influenced Parker. He makes the reader (or, as the case may be, listener) feel like they are there. The only other author I encountered who has done as good a job of providing absolutely fascinating context to help drive a biography is Robert Caro, author of the multi-volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The performance by Kevin Kenerly is superb and he is up to the task of performing a wide variety of material--whether it be describing the love story between Charlie Parker and his first wife Rebecca, the evolution of jazz, the sociopolitical condition of African Americans in the 20s and 30s, or dialog between a drug addict and an hobo.
This is much more than a niche book for jazz fans; it's highly recommended for all Audible members who enjoy engaging biographies supported by outstanding narration.
I actually had to wait a while after finishing Kansas City Lightning before I could sit down to write a review of it. This is not one of those name and date kind of history books.
Stanley Crouch's approach to his biography of Charlie Parker is much the same as Parker's approach to playing a jazz tune. He will begin a chapter with some general info about Parker's early life or career and then make a radical departure to something else. These could be anything from info about certain musicians, history of jazz, or the social mores of the time. These departures were all intelligent, articulate, informative and usually seemed to have nothing to do with Charlie Parker. Crouch then tied them up really nicely and got back to the subject; it is very much like a well crafted BeBop solo.
This book only covers the early years of Parker's life. I hope Mr. Crouch has a part two in the works.
Though I have listened to a lot of Charlie Parker's playing, I did not know much about his life prior to listening to this. I did know that he was thought of as very influential in jazz, in particular Bebop, but this book gave me a feel for how he got to that place. Yes, the author used very "expressive" language but I think that was a good approach to trying to describe music with words. And the narrator I think was very close to perfect for reading that sort of language. I did speed up the author's presentation to 1.1 because I thought that toned down the expression a little bit - I tend to like more monotone types of reading. I do think the reader enhanced the book.
Be sure that you accept that the book stops just before Parker became very well known. For me that was not a problem because I was more interested in how he got to that pinnacle.
I admit that I am not much of a musician and therefore still don't know technically why Parker was so different but at least I have something of a feel for it ( and quite a lot of words to describe it).
By ”times" the author is letting you know that he gives quite a lot of detail about things that are going on during the time that Charlie Parker is growing up. If digressions bother you then you might want to try some other biography (and certainly never read a Bill Bryson book!). Personally I thought it was all quite appropriate and interesting.
This account of Charlie Parker's early years is so well done and narrated that I would say that the audible version of Stanley Crouch's book is a must. It brings the history and the artist to life in a way that only reading the words can't do. It isn't that often that you don't want a book to end but this is such a book. I eagerly await the 2nd volume. And I certainly hope that the same narrator is used. Kevin Kenerly is fantastic.
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