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Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  719 ratings  ·  134 reviews
Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker is the first installment in the long-awaited portrait of one of the most talented and influential musicians of the twentieth century, from Stanley Crouch, one of the foremost authorities on jazz and culture in America.

Throughout his life, Charlie Parker personified the tortured American artist: a revolutionary per
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 384 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Harper/HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C.
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Nancy Oakes
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Super book about one of my ultimate favorite jazz musicians.

"What he gave the horn, it gave back. What it gave him, he never forgot."

The ultimate reading day for me includes the following: rain (which we get a lot of down here in the south), a cup or two or three of strong black coffee (no pods -- I love freshly ground) and most important, the jazz music playing in the background. One of my favorite musicians is Charlie Parker, about whom this book was written. I have been wanting to read a bio
Michael Finocchiaro
I honestly get annoyed by Crouch sometimes (especially his dismissiveness here: and his overbearing editorial influence on Ken Burn's Jazz TV show ( but when he is writing about music he loves and musicians he respects, he is hard to beat. Bird is such a huge figure for jazz music and his origins and flaws are described in detail here in this excellent biography. The subtitle leads one to believe that there will be a second v ...more
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book both fascinates and frustrates. It's fascinating in that context is richly provided and Bird is thoroughly situated in the era of his time. The Kansas City of Bird's time is thoroughly unpacked so that the reader gets a full understanding of the environment that Bird was navigating.

We follow young Charlie through his very early years and his entry into high school. He commented apparently that he entered high school as a freshman and left as a freshman. He marries at 16, clearly not re
Carl R.
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kansas City Lightning not only takes us inside Charlie Parker's life, but into the world of jazz, circa 1930's and 40's. Stanley Crouch's ending is a surprise because he stops in the middle, just as Parker is hitting it big in NYC. At first I felt a little cheated. Hey, this is only half a bio. Then I realized I knew all I really needed to know if I were looking to find out about about Bird, the musician and the man. The rest is more of the same. The same what? Check it out.

Crouch opens the book
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: jazz, biography
Here's a telling thing that showcases in miniature what's nutty about this book: about 2/3 of the way through, Crouch mentions that one step in Charlie Parker's development as a serious (obsessive, really) saxophonist is that he began customizing his metal mouthpieces and shaving down his reed -- and Crouch then goes on to explain, in passing, what a reed is.

You've got to wonder: why? Who on earth does he imagine would pick up a biography of jazz's greatest sax player (and arguably it's greatest
Duffy Pratt
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: criticism
The subtitle of this book is accurate, so I guess it is shame on me to expect a full blown biography of Parker. It's not. It's not even really a biography of Parker's rise, although that story is strongly in the mix. Instead, its composed of a scattershot history of jazz and the Kansas City scene, drawing on just about anything that Crouch thinks might be relevant. A lot of this stuff is fascinating on its own, especially things like the glimpse of Lester Young and Count Basie, and even more so ...more
Sally Ooms
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
(I recently read an advanced review copy of Kansas City Lightning that I picked up at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show this fall. I am assuming that there have not been sweeping changes to the final version.)

As a Kansas City native, I found this book totally engrossing and informative. Besides seeing my parents roll their eyes at the mention of the Pendergast "machine" before I was born, I did not really know much about the era that partly nurtured, partly s
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker
Stanley Crouch
365 Pages
ISBN: # 978-0-06-200559-5

Ross Russell, in the cover blurb of his biography of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker Bird Lives--The High Life and hard Times of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker (Quartet Books, 1973), asks "Why should a white man tell this story?" and proceeds to state the obvious: "Firstly, because [as Ross Russell points out] no black man has done it yet." Now, after nearly 30 years of threateni
Donna Lewis
Nov 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I usually have difficulty reading a long non-fiction book just because of the density and huge amount of information. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am a long time jazz lover, and I appreciated reading about which artists emulated others. Although the book is about Charlie Parker, it is also a book about the birth and development of jazz. And, it's about the development and growth of this country, the movement of immigrants and African Americans north from New Orleans to Chicago, t ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
With a flair for digression that only Melville could love, Crouch deftly paints pictures of the early factors in the life of Charlie Parker. This book covers Bird's life up to his return to New York with Jay McShann's band (~1939-1940). It is not a dry litany of historical facts, dates, and figures as some might expect. It is more of a fanciful attempt to reveal the environment and climate that contributed to Bird's life and development. Being a lover of Charlie Parker, it is an enjoyable read t ...more
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Absolutely loved this book & am hoping its true that there is a part two planned. This is excellent if you want Parker's life & career put into context, and lots of it - Kansas City, the history of jazz, some racial stuff - fantastic and highly recommended. I say I hope there's a 2nd part as this one only goes up to about 1940, so obviously there's a bit more of the story to tell. ...more
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
A biography of Charlie Parker--but not what I was thinking. This was specific to him as a kid and his arch into music legend. It was told via the voices and culture around him--not so much based on direct source material from him. It felt very even keeled to me. No real climax or anti-climax. And it seemed to meander. I had to push to get through it. I found it, honestly, a little boring.
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Charlie Parker’s is a story that teaches. He was extreme and it is hard to tell if he was undone by music or by drugs. One thing is clear this man was genius and what is great about this book is that it isn’t JUST Charlie Parker this is the story of Basie, Moten, Young, Fleet, and so many others. The books paints a large and beautiful portrait of a time before mine.
Halli Casser-Jayne
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Reads like the syncopated rhythm of a Charlie Parker riff. Meet Stanley Crouch on The Halli Casser-Jayne Show, Talk Radio for Fine Minds Wednesday October 9, 3 pm ET Online live @ ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have had a love affair with Kansas City Missouri since I was a kid. Growing up an hour away we visited the big city often. It was big to us Topeka Kansas kids. The writing is deliciously descriptive. It was so upbeat when the writer explains the music of KCMO, NYC and Chicago. I was so into his story that I was super sad during a very rough time in his family life. I wanted to rescue him to be the Charlie Parker we now and yet don't know. Just surface level so we don't have to see under the ve ...more
Jonny Parshall
Very colorful biography of Charlie Parker's early days pre-fame. Paints a very detailed portrait. Lots of great primary sources, and used well. ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Earlier this month I read Kansas City Lightning, a new biography of the great Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch.

Right away I decided to review it, because I love Charlie Parker and his music. But the review morphed into something else. Reading Kansas City Lightning became one of those pleasant experiences where one thing links to another – a six degrees of separation sort of thing; it led me into other stuff.

But first: I enjoyed Kansas City Lightning quite a bit. I can’t remember now where I firs
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Crouch is not someone it’s always easy to agree with. There’s a curmudgeonly confidence in his voice that’s will irritate you if you let it. And I don’t agree with him disparaging the avant-garde in Jazz as it reminds me of my grandfather telling me he didn’t like Stravinsky. For my grandfather classical music ended in 1913. When does jazz end for Crouch? I may not listen to Pierre Boulez or Anthony Braxton but on the rarest occasion, but that doesn’t mean their arms must be severed from the bod ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been on a kick of jazz musician biographies, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington most recently. This is the best and the most readable of the three. It's not bogged down in music theory and minutiae. It's very readable and there's quite a bit about the LIFE of Parker (not just facts and descriptions of music chord changes).

Charlie Parker was an amazing musician and pure genius. He also had demons. When the coroner performed his autopsy (he didn't know who Parker was), he guesstimated him to
Marc  A.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was a terrific read in my opinion. It was better than the high expectations I had for it given my respect for the author and experience of his earlier work. There are many good reviews of "Kansas City Lightning" here on Goodreads, so I will just add a couple of points I think are important:

Mr. Crouch is a longtime jazz critic (as well as social critic and historian), but he himself is not a professional musician. He does, however, have some background in and knowledge of musical theory and
Colleen Estep
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
All I can say is WOW! If you grew up with jazz and know some of the early players, you will shortly and definitely be engrossed in "Kansas City Lightening" The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. If you don't know a lot about jazz and how it came about, you will after reading this novel. Stanley Crouch has written a biography that touches your heart and soul.
He takes you through Charlie's life, as a child with his mother in Kansas City, his love of music that makes him determined to be the very
Paul Frandano
Not merely the story of how a jazz genius scaled the heights but also a thumbnail history of his art, its location in its times, and a dissection of its elements and complexities. Author Stanley Crouch is a wonderful explicator in prose of the sounds, colors, and intentions of jazz and has recovered and uncovered from myriad interviewees over the 32 years of this project a tremendous amount of period, cultural, and musical detail, which - along with little known material on the foundations of Ch ...more
John Pappas
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Crouch bends language like Parker bends harmonies, all while providing essential context and content around the evolution of Parker's style. His irascible and pugnacious voice provides a realistic counterpoint to Parker's melodious waterfalls. Wonderful and essential digressions on boxing, other players and cities that Parker visited as he mastered his instrument and developed his extremely personal style. Excellently researched, especially around Parker's first marriage and his propensity to se ...more
Erin Cataldi
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, rockin-reads
A fascinating look at Charlie Parker's beginning. I assumed (wrongly) that this would be a full biography of Parker's life, but it stops before he truly hits the big time. It traces his rice in Kansas City, his hoboing to Chicago and then to New York to see the world and prove his worth, and ends with his eventual return to Kansas City. Included are many pictures, interviews with his first wife and a wonderful array of Jazz history and culture so that the reader can gain a better understanding o ...more
James Carter
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Kansas City Lightning is a weird biography, if you must insist in describing it as that, because it's nearly anything but. Stanley Crouch spends more than 75% of the pages talking about everything else but Charlie Parker, and by the time it's 1940, the book is over, yet there are 15 years to go in his life. What the heck? Instead, I am taken on a big ride, via purple prose, through the history of Negroes front and back and front and back and front and back with no clear purpose, having been intr ...more
Bill Hall
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, musicians
I was thoroughly disappointed with this book. I expected it to be a typical biography delving deeply into the life of its named personage. However, the author goes on lengthy forays into marginal topics related to Afrrican-American history, the old west, and movies, especial D. W. Griffith. Much of the unique information in the book is taken from taped interviews with childhood family and friends of Parker, so at times, it seems as if the book is more about their lives than Parker's.

If you hoped
Jon Taber
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
I won a copy of this book from Goodreads Firstreads. I really enjoyed this book, I knew little about Charlie Parker prior to reading this book, but there's a ton of information here, not only about him but other musicians and the beginnings of Jazz music. There's also some great history about Kansas City in here as well, which I really enjoyed since I recognize many of the places that are mentioned. ...more
Oct 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: mid-century, music
A compelling and incisive look into the early life of one of the great artists of the 20th century--a visionary of “infinite plasticity”--Kansas City Lightning is also a fascinating survey of the era leading up to Civil Rights, which Crouch portrays as a hotbed of thought and creativity, thanks to icons like King Oliver, Jack Johnson, Duke Ellington, and Joe Lewis.
Tom Brannigan
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Stanley Crouch is one of my favorite writers on all things Jazz. He has an "edge" to anything he gets involves with whether it be writing or doing a spin on the drums in a Jazz band. The only problem is that Stanley needs to write book two!! He leaves the reader at about 1945......before Parker's epiphany on the chord changes of Cherokee......please Stanley....please ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Helped me discover Chu Berry, Buster Smith. Also developed more of an appreciation of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge.
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Mansfield Public ...: The"Kansas City Lightning" review by JOhn Clausen 1 2 Aug 07, 2014 05:22PM  

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Stanley Lawrence Crouch was an American poet, music journalist & jazz critic, biographer, novelist, educator and cultural commentator. He was also both a civil rights activist and a musician as a young man.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Stanley Crouch attended Thomas Jefferson High School, graduating in 1963. He continued his education at area junior colleges and became active in the

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“At that time, Charlie Parker was trying to work up on something,” recalled his friend Clarence Davis, “but he didn’t know what he was doing. He was fishing, but nothing was biting.” 0 likes
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