Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Bird's 90th, a Stop at 151 Avenue B

Before meeting my wife in the seating area near the stage inside Tompkins Square Park, the site of an annual (since 1993) musical birthday tribute to Charlie Parker (1920-1955), I asked a gentleman standing on the park's east side (a three-block segment of Avenue B christened "Charlie Parker Place" in 1992), if he happened to know which of the buildings across the street from where we were standing housed Bird and his family from late 1950 (no source to my knowledge is more specific) to September 1954.  (As the chap was sporting a black tee shirt with Lester Young's image, I guessed rightly that he wouldn't respond with, "Who?")  He wasn't sure, and as it turned out his educated guess was off only by one building, for neither he nor I could see the plaque noting the landmark status of the 1849 Gothic Revival townhouse at 151 Avenue B. 

Later that night at home I found this unambiguous graphic:

There's the plaque between the two staircase-level windows.

An excellent place to start one's research on the Charlie Parker Residence is this site, which has a page on Charles Lockwood's Brick and Brownstone, which used an elevation of 151 Avenue B's fa├žade for one of its many illustrations.  According to Chan Parker's memoir, My Life in E-Flat, "Before Pree was born [on July 17, 1951], we moved to a large apartment on Avenue B and 10th Street.  For the first time in his life Bird had a stable family life.  He played his role of husband and father to the hilt."  (Page 31)  For what it was like to live there with Bird, one could hardly do better than this interview with his step-daughter Kim.

The site of the original Birdland is now a strip joint, but at least the townhouse wherein Bird did his utmost to be husband to Chan and daddy to Kim, Baird, and Pree has suffered no such indignity. 

I mean no disrespect to the fine musicians who played their hearts out in the park today from 3:00 to 7:00.  Their virtuosity notwithstanding--and there were a few transcendent moments--by the tribute's end, all I longed to do was to don my headphones and lose myself in something like this: