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Charlie Parker Jazz Festival Returns to Harlem, with Donald Harrison and Others

Donald Harrison performing at the Winter Jazzfest in 2014.
Jonathan Chimene
Donald Harrison performing at the Winter Jazzfest in 2014.

"Charlie Parker was inclusive, and that made him exclusive," attests 2022 NEA Jazz Master Donald Harrison, Jr. — who, as an alto saxophonist in the modern jazz tradition, can be understood as one of Parker's countless musical heirs.

Harrison is among the leading artists paying tribute at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Presented by Capital One and City Parks Foundation SummerStage, it will take place August 27-29 in Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park, with WBGO's Brian Delp and Sheila Anderson serving as emcees.

The festival kicks off on Aug. 27 with a Parker centennial commemoration assembly, "Bird at 100," that features alto saxophonists Vincent Herring, Gary Bartz and Bobby Watson, joined by pianist David Kikoski, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Carl Allen. The group's recent album on Smoke Sessions Records included originals from the group as well as burning renditions of tunes closely associated with Parker.

On Aug. 28, Harrison will re-imagine the 1950 recording Bird with Strings — augmenting his quartet with the Harlem Symphony Orchestra. He also plans to debut two original works with this expanded group.

And on Aug. 29, Parker's actual birthday, drummer Willie Jones III and Jazz at Lincoln Center will present an international, intergenerational tribute featuring collaborators like bassist Endea Owens and saxophonists Godwin Louis and Sarah Hanahan.

This 2021 edition marks a tentative return to form for the festival, which will proceed in accordance with the City's public health guidelines. Last year, for Parker's centennial, the festival responded to lockdown orders with a virtual presentation.

Charlie Parker At 100: A Celebration of Parker’s Birthday and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival

Harrison, speaking with WBGO News, characterizes Parker as an artist who bore witness to his time. "He said that 'If you don't live it, then it won't come out of your horn,'" he says, "and that 'Music has no boundaries.'"

WBGO is a media partner of the Charlie Parker Festival. For more information, see the official website.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.