Kansas City Lightning
The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker
“A tour de force. . . . Crouch has given us a bone-deep understanding of Parker’s music and the world that produced it. In his pages, Bird still lives.” — Washington Post
A stunning portrait of Charlie Parker, 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, Stanley Crouch recreates 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.
Praise For Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker…
— Washington Post
“It is from Mr. Crouch, a novelist as well as a critic and essayist, that we come to see Charlie Parker in the context of his time and place in America. . . . One comes away from Mr. Crouch’s book wanting more.”
— Wall Street Journal
“Kansas City Lightning succeeds as few biographies of jazz musicians have. . . This book is a magnificent achievement; I could hardly put it down.”
— Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“This is a memorable book. . . Stanley Crouch takes us deep into places most of us can only imagine—including into the heart of the mysterious split-second alchemy that takes place nightly on the bandstand.”
— Geoffrey C. Ward
“A book about a jazz hero written in a heroic style. . . a bebop Beowulf.”
— New York Times
“[Crouch] crafts lush scenes and crackling music writing. . . Jazz fans will want to read this book. . . This is a thorough and entertaining account of one of the greatest rises—and the prelude to one of the greatest falls—in jazz history.”
“It takes a lifetime of passionate engagement to write with the intensity and depth of Stanley Crouch. . . The results are insightful, profound, and wholly original. . . This a must read, not just for jazz fans, but for anyone interested in American possibilities.”
— Wynton Marsalis
“A jazz biography that ranks with the very best.”
— Booklist, starred review
“Crouch. . . is uniquely qualified to guide readers on this tour. . . A story rich in musical history and poignant with dramatic irony.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“[A] riveting, long-awaited book . . . Here is Bird making his watershed discoveries before he fired his own lightning bolts.”
— Gary Giddins
Harper Perennial, 9780062005618, 400pp.
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
About the Author
Stanley Crouch was twice nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, for his essay collections Notes of a Hanging Judge and The All-American Skin Game. His other books include Always in Pursuit, The Artificial White Man, and the acclaimed novel Don't the Moon Look Lonesome. He served on and off as the artistic consultant for jazz programming at Lincoln Center, was the president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He died in 2020 at the age of 74.