Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

Blues for Mister Charlie

- Abstract

After Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker ranks as the most influential jazz musician of the 20th century. He was also a hard-drinking heroin addict whose habits directly led to his death in 1955 at the untimely age of 34. In a profession whose members have long been known for their erratic behavior, Parker’s irresponsibility stood out, so much so that it became impossible for him to find steady work despite being universally regarded by his contemporaries as a genius. On various occasions he has been described as a con man, a sociopath, even an idiot savant, and while none of these terms is accurate, they all point to one aspect or another of his famously difficult personality.

About the Author

Terry Teachout, Commentary’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, out next month from Gotham Books. He worked as a jazz bassist in Kansas City from 1977 to 1983.