Writings about Music

Bird and Dizzy Music Blitzkrieg

The Influence of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

It’s interesting to read various viewpoints on this subject. Personally, I believe that American jazz, followed by American and British rock and other "popular" forms, superseded Western “classical music” of the same time intellectually, technically, expressively, and spiritually beginning with the emergence of Charlie Parker, a revolutionary musician who Stanley Crouch has brilliantly described as “Kansas City Lightning” in a new book I have not yet read. In fact, venturing outside the realm of music, I sometimes wonder if Charlie Parker’s music, together with Dizzy Gillespie, somehow assisted American consciousness to defeat the dreaded Blitzkrieg of Nazi Germany by imparting a previously unknown intensity, speed, and fantastical precision. (I do not know the extent of British and Russian familiarity with the music of Parker and Gillespie during this period.)

Similar to my extra-musical speculation about the power of Bird and Dizzy's influence, I have felt that John Coltrane’s music was a central spiritual force behind the ending of the Vietnam War, and the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. I once had opportunity to share this thought with Jack DeJohnette, who performed with Trane, and he concurred with my sentiment.

Music created by, and spawned by Parker and Gillespie, followed by John Coltrane, and including Lee Konitz, Bill Evans, and Ornette Coleman, represents the most powerful influences on composers of our time together with the classical music of India, and various forms of Western popular music. This includes those influenced by the music of Steve Reich and other “minimalists,” who owe this debt as well, regardless of how cognizant they may be of primary sources. Even Milton Babbitt, following in the tradition of Schoenberg and Webern, acknowledged the enormous influence of jazz on his musical output.

So, as you see, my personal perspective on current compositional voices is more how they relate to jazz, rock, other "popular" forms, and the traditional music of India and other world cultures, as opposed to each other, which is like discussing ice cream and steak by forgetting that they both emanate from cows.

- Michael Robinson, November 2013, Los Angeles


© 2013 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).