Monday, January 27, 2020

Listen now: Charlie Parker's Yardbird podcast

Left: The real jazz legend Charlie Parker, one of the most popular performing artists in music following World War II. Right: Joshua Stewart, one of the Charlie Parkers who stars in S

A new opera that combines jazz and classical music? Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean describes Charlie Parker’s Yardbird as a piece about "music, creativity, race and racism ... life, death, and freedom." In this opera, which had its premiere in 2015, a flexible operatic tenor uses his voice much like the real Parker used his alto-saxophone. Listen to the Seattle Opera podcast, hosted by Dean, to learn more about how the opera references the Black American art of jazz, and specifically, bepop.

"This opera explores the life of the one and only Charlie Parker, the saxophone player known as 'Yardbird,' and also, just 'Bird.' Now, it isn't a documentary or a biography. Opera is life distilled, concentrated, boiled down. Here, we have an artist's rendering of the essence of Charlie Parker's experience. This opera explores Parker's response to mid-century racism—he was the type of person who was forever pushing back on boundaries—and he pioneered bebop, a new kind of sound for the beat generation, before he died only 34-years-old from a combination of factors exacerbated by his addictions to heroin and alcohol. When he died, there was a long delay before the body was taken to the morgue and identified. That delay gave librettist Bridgette Wimberly the idea of setting this opera in a kind of purgatory just after Charlie's death, but before plans were made for his funeral. Charlie Parker finds himself in a limbo, where he considers the meaning of his life. Although he aspires to sum everything up in one valedictory composition, in the end, he realizes that his music, which was life and his soul, lives on. The bird flies free."—Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean

For more, tune in to the Seattle Opera podcast episode: Charlie Parker's Yardbird 101.

The Seattle Opera Podcast is for everyone. Are you an opera newbie (or maybe need a refresher)? Check out the SO’s opera 101 lessons. These short and entertaining overviews of the SO’s operas are a great place to start. Already an opera fan? Check out episodes that take a deeper dive into the operas. This podcast is a co-production of Seattle Opera and KING FM. Subscribe on iTunes

Charlie Parker's Yardbird plays Feb. 22–March 7, 2020 at McCaw Hall.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Madison Opera, 2017 © James Gill