Charlie Parker's Yardbird
Composer: Daniel Schnyder
Librettist: Bridgette Wimberly
Premiere Date: June 05, 2015

New York City, 1955.  As his body lies unclaimed in the morgue, saxophone great Charlie Parker returns in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories in an acclaimed new opera that tells of his tortured, brilliant life “with a pulsing, jazz-infused score” (The New York Times).

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird was widely praised following its 2015 premiere. The Wall Street Journal said, “its rhythms snap and swing, its melodies – including real arias – seize the ear, its ensembles crackle with energy.”


Imagine having an opportunity to realize one final dream before you die. Charlie Parker often talked about writing new music for an orchestra of 40 or more. He had already accomplished quite a bit. But as of March 12, 1955 this had eluded him. As his body lies misidentified in the morgue, Charlie’s ghost enters Birdland, a 500-seat club named after him that also featured caged finches as decor. Celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Joe Louis could be seen there regularly. Owning no part of Birdland, Charlie was kicked out in 1954 after an altercation with another musician. On March 4, 1955, he made his final appearance there. Eight days later he was dead.

His spirit, both surprised and inspired, now stands in this new Birdland. Here, he will create his final masterpiece. He is interrupted by Nica, who appears frantically in search of his wife Chan, so she can tell her Charlie is dead. Charlie needs all the time available to write. Nica, on the other hand, needs Chan to claim Charlie’s body and end the potential nightmare of the press announcing that he has died in her hotel suite forcing the hotel to evict her. Charlie tries to write but the notes will not stay on the paper. As a master of improvisation, Charlie long realized that the twelve semitones of the chromatic scale could lead melodically to any key, freeing musicians from the twelve bar blues.

Needing a new freedom, Charlie is visited and inspired by people who have meant much in his life. With the inspiration of his strong mother Addie, three of his four wives, Rebecca, Doris, and Chan, and his partner in the jazz revolution that was bebop, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker will struggle to calm his demons and write his new masterpiece before his body is identified in the morgue and this gig is up forever. Can he do it or will the demons of his past rear their ugly heads? Will he succumb to heroin or alcohol, or is he just too tired and sick to go on? Will he channel the strength and love of his mother, a woman who worked long hours to give him everything she could? He was her only child. Did she mother him too much or will he honor her with a new masterpiece? He left his first wife Rebecca with an infant son nearly 15 years earlier. Can she forgive him? Charlie will bravely revisit Camarillo State Mental Hospital, a purgatory, searching for inspiration and healing. Will he find it and will he be able to forgive himself for the death of his daughter Pree, whom he could not save? Can her forgiveness save him? This opera searches for the music in dreams deferred and the power of redemption.

We proudly close the opera with "I know why the caged bird sings," the last stanza from “Sympathy," a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), understanding and acknowledging both the struggle and triumph of Charlie Parker.

1622.jpg is a photo of Charlie Parker's Yardbird
Length: 01:40
Total Acts: 1
Contact: Not Available
Composer Web Site:
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