Charlie Parker Memorial



[Photograph courtesy of National Geographic]


Charlie Parker Memorial 1999
Cast bronze
18 feet in height

Dedicated on March 27, 1999, Charlie Parker Memorial was commissioned by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, with public funds provided by the city and private funds from the Oppenheimer Brothers Foundation and Tony and Marti Oppenheimer.

Charlie Parker Memorial consists of a bronze head likeness of Charlie Parker measuring 10 feet in height, mounted on 8 feet high base. On the base, etched in letters are words “BIRD LIVES.”

The Memorial is installed at the southeast corner of 17th Terrace and the Paseo in Kansas City, Missouri.


Robert Graham
Born: 08/19/1938
Died: 12/27/2008
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QUOTE: “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”(*) – CHARLIE PARKER

The words and influence of Charlie “Bird” Parker have echoed through generations of musicians. The legendary saxophonist’s electrifying sound took the jazz world by storm in the 1940s and carried on until his death in 1955. Bird’s musical ideas and instrumental prowess provided the foundation for the sound that became known as “bebop.”

In 1997, internationally renowned sculptor Robert Graham was commissioned to begin work on the Charlie “Bird” Parker Memorial sculpture. With the support of former Mayor Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, the project gained momentum and the Charlie “Bird” Parker Plaza was dedicated on March 27, 1999.

Located adjacent to the Jay McShann Outdoor Pavilion on the north side of the American Jazz Museum, the Charlie “Bird” Parker Memorial faces east towards the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District where Parker cultivated his craft and perfected his art.

By presenting Parker’s head in isolation from his body, the sculptor sought to capture the man’s inner essence rather than his external appearance. The jazz legend’s facial features are treated in a generalized fashion so that he appears ageless. The downward tilt of the head, the closed eyes, and the rapt expression suggest that Parker is completely absorbed in music.

The artist sacrificed anatomical completeness in order to create a more visually appealing sculptural shape. Coincidentally, this cropping also transforms Parker’s profile, when seen from the south, into the rough shape of the continent of Africa.

The phrase “Bird Lives”, inscribed in the base of the sculpture, rings true today. Recordings of his performances still sound immediate and fresh, and many of his challenging compositions have become standards in jazz repertoire.

Charlie “Bird” Parker is an integral part of the Kansas City community and its Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District. He is considered to be one of the most gifted and original performers in jazz. In the same way, the Charlie “Bird” Parker Memorial sculpture is truly an original work of art, and a gift to all who have seen it.


OFFICIAL KCCVA LIST OF: “Famous Kansas Citians”


parker#3. Charlie Parker — Legendary saxophonist and Kansas City native, Charlie “Bird” Parker, took the jazz world by storm in the 1940s. Bearing the inscription “Bird Lives,” the Charlie Parker Memorial in Kansas City’s 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District is a tribute to the musician, and the nearby American Jazz Museum displays his saxophone as well as other important artifacts from the genre’s history. Parker is buried in Kansas City’s Lincoln Cemetery.
ARTICLE: Courtesy of VisitKC

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(a portion of the proceeds go to the American Jazz Museum)

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Location: Charlie Parker Memorial Plaza | American Jazz Museum


by Michael Levin and John S. Wilson — 9/9/1949
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