The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Avenue in Stony Brook, has recently acquired a collection of more than 50 memorabilia items from jazz saxophonist legend Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, that includes master acetates from some of his most important recording sessions; a personalized instrument case; his union card; numerous notes, letters and correspondence; and his Birdland contracts.
An exhibit highlighting Parker and the newly acquired memorabilia will open in February, along with numerous events and concerts centered on Parker’s music. The concert series will culminate in several performances of “Charlie Parker with Strings,” one of his most well-known recordings.
Some of the correspondence documents his challenge with the union as he often had his union card revoked for drug offenses. The letters, from him, his agents, promoters, and friends, show Parker’s struggle to stay clean and work. Parker struggled with a heroin addiction and died at the age of 34.
The items were purchased at a Christie’s of London auction which showcased a vast collection of music memorabilia belonging to the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. Watts, who had been a beloved member of the Stones since 1963, passed away in August 2021.
Watts was a huge jazz fan, with a special love of Charlie Parker.
“I heard Charlie Parker and that was it. It was all over,” Watts had said.
According to David Green, a childhood friend of Watts, his “collection of jazz memorabilia, which he started in his teens, and built up during his years with the Stones is truly astonishing; it reflects his enduring love of the music and the musicians who made it.”
Tom Manuel, founder and president of The Jazz Loft, said he was determined to bring the collection to The Jazz Loft because Parker had deep roots in New York. Birdland, the famous jazz club located on 52nd Street in New York City, was named for Parker, who had a residency there for four years.
“Charlie Parker holds a place on that shelf that few get to join; Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Ella are all up there. Parker is there because he, along with his bebop colleagues, gave us an entirely new way of speaking the language of Jazz,” Manuel said.
“Parker’s short-lived life meant that he left us little in terms of personal items related to his career. The sale of the Charlie Watts collection which took him decades to assemble literally was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I just knew that The Jazz Loft needed to mobilize all our resources and support to bring Bird home. I’m still in awe that we are now the only Jazz museum in the world with such an extensive collection of items relating to the life and career of one of the most important figures in Jazz — Charlie Parker. It’s beyond description,” added Manuel.
Through a fundraising campaign called Operation Bring Bird Home, Manuel raised over $150,000 from over 30 donors to purchase the Parker collection. Lead donors were Dawn and Dan Oliveri and Cynthia and David Lippe, with additional support from the Jazz Loft’s Board of Directors.
“The acquisition of this Charlie Parker collection will be a game changer for The Jazz Loft,” said Cynthia Lippe. “We have amazing collections of artists who are significant to the history of jazz and well-known among jazz aficionados, but we haven’t had such a household name in jazz until now. Everyone knows ‘Bird,’ and we now have one of the largest collections of Charlie Parker memorabilia anywhere!”
Glenn Mitchell, senior specialist at antiquarian bookseller Peter Harrington of London, said, “I count myself as extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Charlie Watts in building his jazz collection. He was a passionate and informed collector in a range of areas, but deep down it was jazz that was closest to his heart, and in his heart, he held Bird dearest of all.”
“Charlie didn’t buy a single thing that didn’t mean something to him, and his jazz collection was carefully composed of material that takes you there, puts you in the room, brings alive not just the sounds but the whole scintillating variegated culture of jazz. He’d often say to me, ‘when I’m gone, who’s going to care about all this stuff?’, well evidently quite few people! It was a great pleasure to meet Dr. Thomas Manuel ‘backstage’ at the Christie’s sale and to be able to share the stories behind some of Charlie’s trophy pieces; Charlie would have been delighted to see that many of these have now found a home in a place where jazz truly still lives, and the story is being told for generations to come.”
The Charlie Parker collection will be exhibited at The Jazz Loft in February. The kickoff will include a reception for donors on Feb. 8 at 6:30p.m. and two performances of “Charlie Parker with Strings” featuring Chris Donohue and Dayna Sean Stephens on April 4 and 6 at 7 p.m. and a third performance featuring Chris Donohue on alto saxophonist at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts on April 5 at 7 p.m. In addition, the exhibit will include a screening of Clint Eastwood’s award-winning film Bird on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.thejazzloft.org or call 631-751-1895.