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Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker Paperback – 20 Nov 2014

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (20 Nov. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062005618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062005618
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“A tour de force that is the print equivalent of a long, bravura jazz performance. . . Crouch has given us a bone-deep understanding of Parker’s music and the world that produced it. In his pages, Bird still lives.” (Washington Post)

“It is from Mr. Crouch, a novelist as well as a critic and essayist, that we come to see Charlie Parker in the context of his time and place in America. . . One comes away from Mr. Crouch’s book wanting more.” (Wall Street Journal)

Kansas City Lightning succeeds as few biographies of jazz musicians have. . . This book is a magnificent achievement; I could hardly put it down.” (Henry Louis Gates, Jr. )

“This is a memorable book. . . Stanley Crouch takes us deep into places most of us can only imagine—including into the heart of the mysterious split-second alchemy that takes place nightly on the bandstand.” (Geoffrey C. Ward)

“A book about a jazz hero written in a heroic style. . . a bebop Beowulf.” (New York Times)

“[Crouch] crafts lush scenes and crackling music writing. . . Jazz fans will want to read this book. . . This is a thorough and entertaining account of one of the greatest rises—and the prelude to one of the greatest falls—in jazz history.” (NPR.org)

“It takes a lifetime of passionate engagement to write with the intensity and depth of Stanley Crouch. . . The results are insightful, profound, and wholly original. . . This a must read, not just for jazz fans, but for anyone interested in American possibilities.” (Wynton Marsalis)

“A jazz biography that ranks with the very best.” (Booklist, starred review)

“Crouch. . . is uniquely qualified to guide readers on this tour. . . A story rich in musical history and poignant with dramatic irony.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“[A] riveting, long-awaited book . . . Here is Bird making his watershed discoveries before he fired his own lightning bolts.” (Gary Giddins)

“A portrait of the young Charlie Parker with a degree of vivid detail never before approached. . . [Kansas City Lightning is] a deft, virtuosic panorama of early jazz. . . This is a mind-opening, and mind-filling, book.” (Tom Piazza)

“Stanley Crouch’s work is perhaps the most important writing on jazz today. . . This outstanding book is food for the soul for any serious listener of jazz music.” (Madhav Chari, jazz pianist)

With the straight-ahead timing and the ethereal blowing of a great jazzman, Crouch delivers a scorching set. . . Crouch brings to life the swinging backdrop against which Parker honed his craft.” (Publishers Weekly)

“This first volume in the epic biography of Charlie Parker showcases Stanley Crouch’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history and effusive prose.” (Shelf Awareness)

Kansas City Lightning paints a profound portrait of a great American musician, but also features Crouch operating at the top of his game.” (Eugene Holley, Publishers Weekly)

“Stanley Crouch has a store of fresh information for you in his new book about Charlie Parker (1920-55), the genius of American music universally known as Bird, and invaluable insights to offer into the meaning of Parker’s achievement. It is imperative that you come into possession of this material…” (Daily Beast)

“Award-winning Crouch takes a deep look at [Parker’s] rich life.” (Denver Post)

“Social and cultural critic, columnist and MacArthur Genius Crouch offers a mix of impressionist strokes, historical facts and context in his masterful Charlie Parker bio.” (New York Post)

“Meticulous and steeped in local lore. . . Feel[s] as urgent as a blast from Parker’s saxophone.” (Kansas City Star)

“The soul of Stanley Crouch joins the soul of the legendary jazz legend. . . Crouch recreates ‘the Bird’ with his writer’s talents at their peak and the result is magical.” (Huffington Post)

“Fans of Mr. Crouch have been waiting so long for him to complete this volume, which is the first installment in a two-part series, that it has taken on a kind of mythic status. It lives up to its aura.” (New York Observer)

“He tells Parker’s story in vivid detail, with a historian’s eye and Crouch’s unwavering love of the art. All of these elements coalesce into one engrossing account of an American legend that is a must-read for music fans.” (Flavorwire)

“The rich details make Parker’s story come alive.” (Jazz History Online)

“[Crouch’s] great, indeed historic, glory is original research, its interviews with Parker friends from boyhood on about the first half of his life in Kansas City.” (Buffalo News)

“’Bird Lives!’ his followers proclaimed, as if a man as brilliant as Parker could not possibly be mortal. But Charlie Parker was a man, and Stanley Crouch’s enchanting biography returns him to the soil that nourished him before he took flight.” (New York Review of Books)

“Crouch. . . meticulously examines the musical mechanisms of Parker’s genius and, in prose that veers toward lyrical rapture, conjures the inner life of the improvising artist. . . The book also unfolds, with remarkable personal nuances, a social history of black America in the Jim Crow era.” (The New Yorker)

“Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning shoots out of the gate with the gale force of a Charlie Parker solo. . . [An] immersive chronicle, more than 30 years in the making.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Stanley Crouch’s soulful, poetic and often graphic Kansas City Lightning. . . reads like the jazz version of Batman Begins, with Crouch detailing the raw materials of culture, class, and race that forged Parker’s musical identity.” (Los Angeles Magazine)

“Reads like a jazz record. . . Cradling Parker’s past in the long and incredibly fruitful history of music in America, Crouch brings the alto saxophonist to life, his biography an amalgamation of the people who knew him, loved him, and, of course, played alongside him.” (barnesandnoble.com)

“Will send you searching for recordings. And really, there’s no more important litmus test for a music biography. Reading these books makes you want to listen.” (Boston Globe)

“Charlie Parker’s story can’t help but fascinate anyone interested in the most American music of the past century. . . I am eagerly awaiting [the] sequel.” (Chicago Tribune)

“A riveting read. . . Crouch, through years of research, has done an exemplary job.” (Jazz Times)

“Strikes with enlivening insight, and will leave jazz fans hoping Crouch is as good as his word when he says Volume 2 will be out in the next two years.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“Crouch writes in a heroic style. . . This 30-years-in-the-making biography of the saxophonist evokes Parker’s life and times with visceral power, as well as real finesse.” (San Jose Mercury News)

“From bravura sentence to serpentine paragraph, the book is a virtuoso performance of musical-literary mimesis. . . . Kansas City Lightning provides more ideas and better writing in its 365 pages than any other book about Parker.” (David Hajdu, New York Times Book Review)

“Crouch’s prose is, as usual, perfect-it takes a genius to write about one, perhaps—and Kansas City Lightning is a thoughtful, generous look at one of the country’s most important artists.” (NPR, Named One of the Best Books of the Year)

“Capture[s] the excitement of a Charlie Parker performance, his incandescent swing, the way he took notes to places they’d never been before. . . Takes us as close as we are likely to get to the early years of a genius-in-waiting.” (Toronto Globe and Mail)

“[A] meticulous biography of Parker. . . . In Crouch’s passages, he very nearly invents a new language for discussing jazz.” (Popmatters.com)

“In Crouch’s hands, the phrase that used to be ubiquitous around New York rings true: Bird lives. I hope I’m not the only one out there who is waiting with bated breath for Crouch’s next volume to see this Bird take flight.” (The Millions)

“An instant classic. . . . With a novelist’s sensibility . . . Crouch portrays Parker’s world more vividly than anything I have ever read previously. . . . Parker ‘lives’ in Crouch’s telling.” (Jeff Sultanof, the Journal of Jazz Studies)

From the Back Cover

Winner of the Prose Award for Humanities
Finalist for the NAACP Image Award
Finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

No musician has lived a more transformational, or tragic, life than Charlie Parker, one of the most talented and influential figures of the twentieth century. Drawing on decades of original interviews with peers, collaborators, and family members, Stanley Crouch reveals Parker as he was: from the dance clubs of late-night Kansas City, where he learned his craft, to the ballrooms of wartime Harlem, it offers an unprecedented window into the world—and intimate life—of the young genius.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has been in the offing for about twenty years but has not been worth the wait. It is laboriously written with far too much space devoted to sketching in the historical background. Chuck Haddix's recent Parker book is vastly superior
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Kansas City Lightning relates the story of Charlie Parker from childhood to early manhood in Kansas City to when he was on the verge of making Jazz history in New York. It recounts his childhood, his first musical experiences and his rather unfortunate young marriage (like a lot of driven men, he wasn't a dependable family man), his tragic drug addiction, his first professional appearances and his musical influences (Roy Eldridge, Lester Young et al.).

I have to say I was a little disappointed by this book. The colloquial style, whilst providing no doubt an authentic ambience, was sometimes for me a little difficult to follow. I would have liked to understand just what level of formal musical education Parker had, for example. Quite a lot of the book is based upon secondary sources, so I don't think there is a lot of original information in the book.

There is no technical discussion of the style Parker developed, nor how this came together with the musicians to produce bebop, but perhaps that is beyond the scope of this book.

So a useful book to understand the social background of Charlie Parker, less so to understand his music.
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Format: Paperback
Could (and should) have been a lot better. This book is a seemingly well-researched study of a little known period in Parker's development and personal life. However, Crouch is not a good writer. I am not sure if he is trying (poorly) to put the feeling of jazz into his prose or whether he is unable to organise and direct a non-fiction historical work. Timelines confusingly appear and disappear, Crouch states his opinions which he then (directly or indirectly) contradicts in the following paragraphs, sentences are desperately over-stuffed with metaphors and similes, and the whole work is shot-through with clumsy prose.

This is bitterly disappointing because if one looks are the material Crouch has gathered (lots of interviews with band mates or running mates of Parker's during this era) one would expect a work which should be necessary reading for Parker fans. However, due to the poor writing and editing (the editor of this book should be shot!) it will be a book which will never live up to its promise.

However, it still contains enough new insight into Parker to make it worth reading - just be prepared to battle though sludgy prose to get to it!
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Charlie Parker recorded a track called Koko in 1945. It's as modern and pure as jazz can get. It's perfect, and as a piece of music it demonstrates precisely how brilliant Bird was, and his collaborator, Dizzy Gillespie. Stanley Crouch has written the most exciting first chapter of any biography I've ever read. It's 1941 and the Jay McShann band are about to hit New York. Out-of-townies in their greasy workstained band clothes take to the stage and proceed to demolish every preconception the stylish, hip audience could possibly have. This is before Charlie stands up to take his solo... If you love Bird, and the chances are you do; You must read this book. Genius honouring genius. I'm so happy reading this precise and loving account of this colossal history-making talent.
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