Yesterday around 12:30 p.m., a yakety of local saxophonists gathered around Charlie Parker's grave in Kansas City's Lincoln Cemetery to blow out a tribute to Bird. The day before, August 29, celebrations at the Mutual Musicians Foundation and the Jazz Museum (but mostly the Foundation) commemorated what would've been Parker's 89th birthday. In the video, the saxers play a fanfare then trade solos round-robin style, beginning with local patriarch Ahmad Alaadeen.
A crowd of 60 or so people attended the brief ceremony, which is put on each year by Parker's family and Lincoln Cemetery officials. This year, it included a poetry reading by Dan Jaffe, an explanation of the #jazzlives Twitter campaign by Dean Hampton of Jazz Ambassadors Magazine, and a reading of a mayoral proclamation by Myra Brown, Parker's second cousin. Representatives from a Tokyo jazz magazine were present, as were these young jazzers in the making.
During the six-minute salute, heavyweights such as Alaadeen, Gerald Dunn and Ronald McFadden busted out a reed, as did less-seasoned but no less passionate players.
After the salute, the Top of the Bottoms Social Aide Pleasure Society's Dirty Force Brass Knuckle Street Band and Soul Revue marched to the grave in New Orleans-style funeral procession. Led by local artist and YJ's Snack Bar proprietor David Ford, the Force brought a big flare of West 18th Street eccentricity to an otherwise somber event. When Ford tossed Mardi Gras beads onto Bird's grave, it was kind of unsettling, though I knew they Dirty Force had done this in previous years. (This was my first time at the ceremony.)
In any case, Dirty Force won 'em over: People began clapping and singing along to "I'll Fly Away" and few of the sax saluters joined in the jubilee. Dirty Force marched back up the sidewalk and out of the cemetery, leaving a newborn, potted sapling inside of a stump next to Parker's grave, which, before the ceremony, had been home to a plastic cardinal and an empty single-serving bottle of Wild Turkey 101.