Our Final Salute To The Centennial Of Legendary Saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker


By Luke Harbur

2020 will go down as one of the most memorable years in America’s history. From the downward and upward curves of COVID-19 to continued civil unrest related to race and the election, each person has sought to find moments of peace and quiet.

The American Jazz Museum seeks to provide a safe space for education, reflection, celebration and joy. 2020 marks the centennial birthday of legendary saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Born August 29, 1920, in Kansas City, Kansas, Parker was the king of bebop, a subgenre of jazz that emerged in the early to mid-1940s. The museum hosted a series of tributes to keep the spirit of Parker alive that were featured in The New York Times
as well as in The London Jazz Times. Here is what we did:

April 2020 — The museum and its jazz club, The Blue Room, designed a digital song contest to pay homage to Charlie Parker. The top three winners of each category were awarded a cash stipend. Find the submissions by searching “American Jazz Museum Charlie Parker Song Contest” on YouTube.


Roger Wilder, winner of the Original Bebop Composition category in the American Jazz Museum’s Charlie Parker Song Contest in March. Photo provided by American Jazz Museum.


Andrew Ouellette, winner of the Charlie Parker Arrangement category in the American Jazz Museum’s Charlie Parker Song Contest in March. Photo provided by American Jazz Museum.

July 19, 2020 — In partnership with Chuck Haddix and UMKC LaBudde Collections, the museum opened Saxophone Supreme: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker. The exhibition features groundbreaking research, album covers, sheet music and rare audio selections on display in person through December 31, 2020.


Charlie Parker at Billy Berg’s, featured photo from LaBudde Special Collections.

August 7, 2020 — Jazz Storytelling, our longest running public program that teaches pre-K and kindergarteners the basics of jazz, returned with a socially distanced program celebrating Charlie Parker. Find recordings by searching “American Jazz Museum Jazz Storytelling” on YouTube.


The museum’s jazz storytellers teach how to scat for the Jazz Storytelling Charlie Parker Birthday celebration. Photo provided by American Jazz Museum.

August 21, 22, 28 and 29, 2020 — The museum hosted a socially distanced Charlie Parker Centennial Concert Series in the Gem Theater, including a 12-hour jam session also offered virtually via livestream. Check it out on the American Jazz Museum Facebook page under the Videos tab.


Morgan Faw (left) and Houston Smith (right) headline the Charlie Parker Centennial Series on August 22 at the Gem Theater. Photo by Luke Harbur.


Bobby Watson closes out the 12-Hour jam session of the Charlie Parker Centennial Series on August 29 at the Gem Theater. Photo by Luke Harbur.

October 2, 2020 — We hosted a live painting session next to Robert Graham’s Bird Lives Charlie Parker bust.


More than 10 painters create work on Oct 2 by Robert Graham’s Bird Lives behind the American Jazz Museum. Photo by Luke Harbur.

November 2020 — Saxophone Supreme: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker is now available as an online exhibit through Google Arts & Culture, which can be found here: https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/american-jazz-museum

The American Jazz Museum continues to serve as a beacon of arts and education in the Kansas City community. Visit americanjazzmuseum.org/support to learn how you can make a difference today.