Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Charlie Parker, Saxophonist

I had come back from the European theater of war. I landed in New York and heard about a new guy playing something none of us ever heard before…bebop. We went down to 42nd street to hear him, and it blew us away. His name was Charlie Parker. Years later he was found wandering the streets naked. And showed all the signs of severe psychosis. Now what has psychosis to do with bebop? A lot.
Just a smidgen of neuroscience: late research shows that inventive jazz playing (and I include bebop)is largely right brain, just the place where very, very early trauma is imprinted, where our key feelings reside, and where we need access in order to invent in music and get well in life. Wow! What a tall order. Alas, it is also the place that pain can break through and disrupt our functioning. It happened to poor Charlie who was run by his right brain, happily and unhappily. It helped him invent and go crazy. He did not have enough left brain to integrate his feelings and suppress those too cumbersome. He did not have enough left brain to stifle his inventiveness.

Charlie’s music was wild, florid, unconstrained, liberated, unpredictable, unexpected and flourishing. It went off in many directions at once, which is why we all had such a hard time learning it. It was the beginning of a very new music, thanks to a pre-psychotic who could not contain his feelings. Like Dali, it made him the most creative and also very close to madness.


  1. Art,

    How do you expect anyone to understand what Charlie Parker's music contained in a psychological message? I went on You Tube to listen and I understand perfectly what you say... more restless in the music's path is hard to summon up... but that it would be of reason... that his feelings was flipping through his thoughts to repress... leaking emotional cues... is probably not what ignorant of the emotional effect of thoughts understand. Maybe now that you brought up the issue. I could not stand more than a little while and it was during the analysis I my self could make of Charlie's mental health and what that now sufficient?


  2. Art, i envy your having seen Bird (Parker) in person; however i find your analysis (if you can call it that) of him to be simplistic; you seem to want to make him fit your own theories; i would say that, when it came to music, Bird knew exactly what he was doing; he wasn't just some psychotic nutter; he built on what came before him, and he took it to a whole other level; along with a lot of other guys, ie Monk, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, yadda yadda; he was one of the true geniuses, musical or otherwise, the human race has ever produced; unfortunately, he also had the misfortune of being a heroin addict; not to mention being African-American caught up in a segregated and racist society...anyways, i appreciate your bringing one of my heroes into the conversation... cheers-nelson.

    1. Thanks, Grumpy! Parker had some serious problems but he knew what he was doing on the horn. He might have been, as Miles Davis once described him, the most selfish person he ever met but he wasn't crazy.

    2. PTCruiser: Running the nude down the street is normal????? art

  3. Nelson: One of my heroes as well. I was playing in band at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, just back from Europe and all of us went down to study Charlie and the other guys. art

  4. I believe Clint Eastwood did a movie on him, too.

    Wikipedia says he was a heroin addict, then an alcoholic (when drugs weren't readily available)...

    Drugs/booze can explain the nakedness and other act-outs. The real question is: what caused the pain he was trying to numb?

    I like THE ARTIST'S WAY in that it says creativity is not "driven" by drugs or craziness. The author thinks Van Gogh and others created despite their pains...and would probably have done even MORE had they been "sober."

    I bet Bird would have soared if he'd not drugged and least not so much.

    Again: what demons dogged him so much that he looked like 60 when he died at 34?

  5. Harmony is a dormant state of mind and to the delight of the "soul"... if not... we find other ways and that is what I experience with Charlie Parker. Run fast... we do when something hunt us.


  6. Frank: I think you mean "haunt us". AJ

  7. he was very talented. he puts a different accent on every little note....plays with a lot of feel. his nervous system clashes with mine. he makes me feel irritated and more unsettled than i already am. i don't want to jog and jiggle. i guess that's the parasympath in me. Art, i suspect you are a sympath. i bet France doesn't really groove with Charlie. am i right? :D
    what instrument do you play? i play keyboard and computer

  8. Richard: Nope not a sympath. Most of my vital signs are low as is certainly body temp;, which is how I characterize the parasympath. I played trumpet and not very good; I played in a mental hospital band called the Psychopathic Synchopaters. and when the guy I was playing with was so great and so crazy I realized that I could never be as good as him. art

  9. Trevor, do check out "Bird" (1988) that Eastwood directed; it captures the whole 40's/50's zeitgeist; and Forrest Whittaker as Parker, if a bit over the top, is excellent; better yet, rent "Round Midnight" (1986) by the French director Bernard Tavernier and starring Dexter Gordon, another titan of the for the forces that drove Parker, that's a tough question to answer; my sense is that he felt constrained, by society and by the music of the time; and, early on, by his own abilities; and needed to break free; but happily so; his music has never sounded angry to me, but joyful, always...and Art, the name of that band you played in, that's priceless! and may i also wish you a very happy birthday which, if wikipedia can be believed, is just a few days away? felicidades!- nelson

  10. Richard: David Foster is out of the country but I will see if we can get one of the songs we wrote on the blog. AJ

  11. A facebook comment: "What's the point, Richard? Did I just hear a sadness celebration? The point is that when a feelings departs from the soul, a tiny piece of truth takes its place. The most difficult part of the therapy is that when we are near or inside the feeling, it is rare that someone (who understands primal therapy) will be there for us. So what? Use the alternative of shutting off completely? Stuffed with pain? Acting out? Smoking? Drinking? Driving like nuts? Killing people? Suffering 24/7? 24/7.........AMAZING QUANTITY!!!! It's your life, however, your choice, your responsibility! And although the pain seems endless, I believe it ends! Vasiliki, some wounds (unfortunately) need a person beside us, maybe behind us, especially the "being alone" feelings. But, yes, you are right. The road is ours, our own path and many times will be walked by us and our solitude."

  12. A previous facebook comment:"yeah life feels more real and meaningful when you cry. so what? nobody is there to understand your pain. nobody cares. so you cry alone and it solves nothing. i would rather stay numb so i can function better until i get therapy. i hate sad music and i hate people who celebrate sadness. i have spent many years trying to comfort a sad person. in the few times when i have been really sad, she has left me to cry alone. we are all weak in our sadness - so what's the point?"

  13. I'm probably a bit too late to make an impact on this one:

    -"yeah life feels more real and meaningful when you cry. so what? nobody is there to understand your pain. nobody cares. so you cry alone and it solves nothing".

    Get a teddy, one you like. When you begin to notice how (when you cry) that he can be soft and furry and there for you. After a while you might find that your crying deepens and your love of teddy deepens and still later you might find a real person with skills and. . .

    Paul G.

  14. paul my mother was in a different world - no hugs - and i didn't have a teddy. i am not capable of loving a stuffed toy. and i can assure you there are very few human substitutes. i once got so depressed i started vomiting with each surge of despair (i can totally relate to Art's description of vomiting when he was in the navy).
    i'm just saying, if you despair you will become disfunctional. i agree that a few tears can provide some temporary relief, but don't ever slip into depression. i guess i was getting confused in the discussion. depression is not really "sadness." depression is hopelessness - but it never gets down to the cause of the hopelessness.

  15. Paul,

    When you cry alone for solitude you need to live with ... loneliness that was ... it's not useless anymore ... you are then to be "aware" of the loneliness you have not experienced ... then it makes sense to be just the feeling of futility ... feeling we could never cope. The teddy is a help on the way to loneliness.


  16. Hi guys,

    Sorry, I'm a bit late on replying to this, blame the scrutinisers for taking so long with the Q/C (I always do).

    Ted for me is not just a symbol. Nor is he the only object of my affections and interest.
    But for me, I only have Ted now. I don't say you should have a stuffed toy, I am speaking from my experience. Ted supersedes my body-work therapist who got me into this "uncharted territory" in the first place.

    My experience is similar to vomiting and I sometimes am sheer terror as I fall into the void, eyes wide awake. A build up of despair often accompanies the first stage; it is like a warning, an alarm in your internal awareness, an aspect of being a nervous system. Fear, my words are a thought out of place.

    If you vomit, I reckon, that's ok. Call it "affect".

    I know this re-living is the real thing and not ab-reaction by the strength of my terror.

    If you keep looking inward and see what is happening to you, you will survive the re-living and not die of fright. That is why we are so repressed now; because we were so overwhelmed with terror then. Not now.

    Paul G.

  17. An email comment: "I forwarded your post on Charlie Parker to a jazz man at our radio station and he replied as such......
    There's usually more to just about anything than meets the eye (or ear), and so enjoy a differing perspective!
    Who knows??
    One way or another, the man shook up the whole world!
    "Bird Lives!" is what the jazz world says. Godawful lot of suffering though......unimaginable....."

  18. And my answer: I talked to Parker and my guess is he was already deeply disturbed, hardly knowing where he was. But that polemic could go on and on. He was my hero nevertheless, as were all the early guys from Monk onward. I read what autobiographies they wrote and it helped me understand a lot. art janov


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“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
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Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

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Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

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K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

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