words," this weekend on c-span2. >> host: stanley crouch, who was charlie parker? >> guest: well, he was what is called a genius or the word genius is used for the use he does for describing the person. that's just an advertising word now. but charlie parker was what the word genius means. but he, he not only was a remarkable technician of his instrument, but he embodied what the power of jazz really is, which is the ability to be able to play and to hear. and much of his early life was learning how to hear. so that he -- because he had, because a jazz musician actually has the hear the entire context
in which he or she is improvising and make a, and react at digital speed to the sound that's going on around them. so charlie parker became one of the most masterful expoints of that -- expoints of that ability. it's not magic, but people don't usually know that that's what a person has to do. you know? >> host: is all jazz improvised? >> guest: no. but the majority of it is. now, there are some people who have written what they call through-composed pieces in which every note that you hear has been previously written, and the players are actually performing a written composition. now, that doesn't mean that artistry is not used, because every great concert musician actually does that. they don't make anything up, they just, they just color it
with different nuances. and so the artistry of a concert musician is like that of an actor. if you play ham let, you are going to say to beor not to be, right? but it's the way you say it that makes it an artistic statement or not. so if you -- so what a jazz musician does, a jazz musician is like an actor who in reaction to other actors makes up his own part. and his own part has to go with what the other people are saying to him. so he has to immediately make sense. so the way to think of jazz itself first by louis armstrong is that human beings can actually respond that quickly to
each other and create order. creating chaos is not a problem. we can just start playing -- [inaudible] [laughter] but when you get a bass line that sounds good or some part that sounds good, piano part that sounds good, a horn part that sounds good, that's pretty remarkable. but people have to learn how to do that. and charlie parker's genius, he had to learn how to do it like everybody else in jazz does. >> host: where was he from and when did he live? >> guest: he lived from 1920 to 1955. he was -- >> host: 35 years? >> guest: no, he didn't get to 35. he died at 34. because he died six months or so before his birthday. so he was, but he grew up in the kansas city that was actually a 20th century extension of the
wild west. because he, he grew up in a totally corrupt town in which the mayor was no good, unless corruption is considered an achievement. if that is what people think, then the mayor of kansas city when charlie parker was there, tom pendergast, he was a very successful mayor. hehe was a complete crook. and the mafia was there. and one of the guys that i quote in the book says, well, in kansas city people didn't have locks on their doors of their places because they stayed open all the time, they never went to -- they never closed. so whatever you wanted, you could get it at any time. if you wanted sex, you could get it. if you wanted to gamble, you could get it. if you wanted liquor, you could get it. what have you wanted, legal or
illegal, it was always available. and so charlie parker grew up in that world, you know? and he, part of what he learned when he was a kid was that whatever happens in life, there's always an opposite version of it. and, see, so when he was a kid, he was kind of -- he had so many things come to him so fast that he learned that people live one way during the day, they live another way after dark. and so one of his jobs when he was 16 years old, they put on sex shows upstairs on saturday nights. and so he's sitting there on the banister, and he's seeing these women dance around, sit on tables and move money with
their -- they would sit, and there would be money, and then they'd stand up, and the money would be gone. he would see women have sex with other women, men have sex with other men, and he was sitting there with a saxophone playing while this was going on. so he didn't grow up in a world that was innocent. he may have been innocent when he entered it, but he definitely wasn't when he left. [laughter] and so it's kind of a, it's kind of startling to realize in our era that there were people who lived even more extreme than modern american people do. you know, there's no place necessarily that you and i can immediately go and see a sex show. that's very doubtful. but it wasn't doubtful if you lived in kansas city in 19 pa 35. -- 1935. we could have done it. so that's a part of what the
story is. and all of that stuff, all of these guys created this very beautiful music in the middle of all of that. and that's part of the victory of jazz, that there's still something in human -- that human beings respond to that has nothing to do with a contest that surrounds them. it may be completely corrupt. because that bess deyoung who was one of charlie parker's big influences, the whores who used to work outside this club that he worked at, they liked him. and they would tell each other, i like him. i like that silky saxophone that he plays. and, you know, to me that's like, now, we're talking about people who live disreputable lives, but there was something
beautiful in young's playing that they could hear. you know? they might have lived under garbage most of the time, but some kind of way there was a, there was something that allowed them to still respond to something beautiful. >> host: stanley crouch, how segregated was kansas city at the time charlie parker grew up? >> guest: well, it was fairly segregated. >> host: was that an issue? >> guest: it was not really an issue after dark. because the musicians will tell you that while you could actually live in an integrated world when it was early in the morning after hours. and that was true in louisiana
and in new orleans. that was true in a lot of places. in fact, the local governments often were very resistant to a jazz world because jazz actually encouraged people to deal with each other as just individuals. it didn't say, oh, well, you're white and you shouldn't know him, or you're jewish and you shouldn't know him. that was all secondary stuff in the jazz world. if you could play, you could play. and if you couldn't play, you couldn't play. if you couldn't play, being black didn't make it any easier for you. if you could play, being white wasn't a liability. that was all secondary stuff. >> host: stan will hi crouch -- stanley crouch, his new book is "kansas city lightning: the rise is and times of carly parker."
he's also the author, of course, of the all-american skin game. what do you write about in the daily news? >> guest: well, american life as i understand it. because it's, this country is a constantly remarkable human occasion because no matter how bad things get in america, there's always something good that happens. there's a good response. it may not be the one you want immediately, but it will gain ground over time, you know? it's like if you study women's liberation, segregation and racism, anti-feminism, anti-irish feeling, all of these things might have been strong at a certain time, but the opposition continued to grow. and, basically, it overwhelms the process.
now, it doesn't -- the problem is never completely overwhelmed, but even a segregationist today would pretend that he or she is -- [inaudible] that's how much brown they lost over the years. and so that's one of the things i'm most fascinated about, how americans continually find out a way to act, to judge each other on a human basis. that doesn't mean you're going to like anybody, that doesn't mean you're not going to like, but it means that you're better off to deal with a human being as a human being than to try to pretend that the person is a variation on the stereotype, you know? so, 'cuz i was arguing with my daughter once, she she's 36 nowe was about 15 then.
she said, well, dad, you're not giving me an opportunity, you don't understand me. i said, well, look, i haven't mistaken you for a mammal only. i said i know who you are, you know? she says i don't think you really know, because people -- we feel different now. i said, well, if you do, then you are different. [laughter] people have always felt the same way, you know? because they've always known what being human is. and that's what we learn from literature always. everything you and i are excited by or like, there's some version of it that people long before we were born actually felt about it. and when we, when we encounter it, then we feel that we've been spoken for previously. you know?
i think that's the major hope of the country. and the country remains assemble ed to everybody in the world of the best way you can go, you know? >> host: why did charlie parker die at 34? >> guest: well, he lived a very self-destructive life because he became a drug addict when he was about 17. but see, he had such incredible will that he was able to still continue to master the saxophone and master the art of hearing to play jazz. and from there he was actually able to find his own way to go, and his way was so powerful that he influenced a lot of other people, you know? >> host: and we've been talking with stanley crouch, columnist
for the new york daily news and author of this book which is coming out in september of 2013, "kansas city lightning: the rise and times of charlie parker." this is booktv on c-span2. >> visit booktv -- >> booktv is live from hyde park -- >> type the author or book title in the search bar on the upper left side of the page and click search. you can also share anything you see on booktv.org easily by clicking share on the upper left side of the page and selecting the format. booktv streams live op line for 48 hours every weekend with top nonfiction books and authors. booktv.org. >> we'll be back in a few minutes with more from the 2013 roosevelt -- [inaudible conversations] ..
susan dunn will present in three hours her book 1940, takes a look at the country during the election of 1940 followed by cheryl mollenbach with double victory:power african-american women helped win world war ii. christopher o'sullivan is next and we will conclude our live coverage with keynote speaker alli've got black on eleanor