(L-R) Cobi Narita (center) with daughter, Jude Narita and son Rob Narita (Ron Scott photo)
Lawrence Brownlee as Charlie Parker
There is a 10-feet high bust of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, the legendary alto saxophone player in his hometown of Kansas City, Kan. On March 30 Parker’s spirited presence became a mainstay in Harlem as he was inducted into the Apollo Theater’s Apollo Walk of Fame.
His plaque was installed underneath the Apollo’s marquee on 125th street, alongside plaques for such Apollo legends as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin.
Since 1993, Parker’s significant contribution to jazz and his continued influence on generations of musicians is celebrated in Harlem (Marcus Garvey Park) and on the Lower East Side during the annual outdoor summer festival named in his honor.
After relocating from Kansas City, he called Harlem his second home. He could always be found gigging at Minton’s Playhouse, the Savoy Ballroom, Small’s Paradise and the Apollo Theater. His funeral in 1955 was held at Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the service was officiated by the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
On April 1 and April 3, the Apollo Theater and Opera Philadelphia are partnering to present “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” in its New York premiere. The co-production will mark the first time an opera will be performed on the Apollo Theater stage, and the first time Opera Philadelphia will play New York.
Set in the storied Birdland Jazz Club (then located on West 52nd Street) on March 12, 1955, the day Parker died, the opera invites audiences into the saxophonist’s psyche as he composes his final masterpiece, and revisits the inspirations and women who fueled his creative genius.
The New York premiere reunites Lawrence Brownlee, the tenor in the lead role as the legendary jazz saxophonist, with soprano Angela Brown as his mother, Addie Parker, and baritone Will Liverman debuts as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. The music is by Daniel Schnyder, libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly and direction by Ron Daniels.