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Kansas City's American Jazz Museum Launches Fundraising Campaign To Keep The Music Of Charlie 'Bird' Parker Going

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
The American Jazz Museum is located in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District.

The American Jazz Museum launched "In the Yard," to raise funds for youth programming, digitizing and preserving the collection, and a jazz incubator.

Charlie Parker, a Kansas City native, pioneered the style of jazz known as bebop.

One of his saxophones, a cream-colored plastic instrument made in England, is now on view in an exhibition at EPCOT at Walt Disney World called “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure.”

But this saxophone's permanent home is the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

courtesy: American Jazz Museum
The American Jazz Museum acquired Charlie Parker's plastic saxophone at auction in 1994.

When it returns in August, in time for a celebration of Parker’s 101st birthday, officials hope to have raised $101,000. That goal was announced Friday at the American Jazz Museum as part of a new initiative called “In the Yard” — a nod to Parker’s nickname of Bird, or Yardbird.

"Jazz endures. Jazz, baseball and barbecue," said jazz museum executive director Rashida Phillips, who took on the role in January 2020. "That's Kansas City's identity. And if we don't know it, who will?"

The "In the Yard" campaign aims to raise $101,000 — for youth programming, digitizing and preserving artifacts, and supporting musicians through a jazz incubator. The idea, Phillips said, was sparked when she delivered the saxophone to EPCOT Center.

"The understanding that Kansas City is big in the jazz narrative, it's big in the world," she said.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas joined Philips in Florida to drop off the saxophone, a trip that coincided with the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl game in Miami.

According to Lucas, the proposed jazz incubator is likely to provide opportunities for businesses as well as musicians — and address some important questions: "How can you make money in this business? How can you grow? How can you expand that?"

Parker's style of jazz is credited with putting Kansas City "on the map." But jazz educator and saxophonist Bobby Watson said there's still a lot of work to do to keep it there.

"I have devoted my life to preserving jazz. It's going to take all of us," Watson said. "Keep sharing your stories, keep spreading our art form, keep jazz alive by hearing live music."

He added, "There's no substitute for hearing live music, and especially jazz."

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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