In a few weeks, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird makes its debut in Chicago with a limited 2 show run. Previously,  Philadelphia and New York had shown the production. However, it’s only fitting that this story finally makes its way to Chicago — a city known for its musical history.

This chamber opera experience will immerse the audience into the tortured soul of the legendary saxophonists. The minimal set takes place in historic NYC night club Birdland. The same club that gave Charlie Parker the moniker Yardbird. For 90 minutes, we will witness the inspirations, demons, and the influential people who shaped the creativity behind Charlie Parker.

Photo Credit: Dominic M. Mercier/Opera Philadelphia

No one is better for the role of Charlie Parker than bel canto trained tenor Lawrence Brownlee.

We caught up with Lawrence ahead of his return to Chicago. Find out what Lawrence had to say about the legacy of  Charlie Parker. Plus, gain some insights about why you need to attend this limited show run.

Chicago and Charlie Parker

TCL: Hi Lawrence, for those who are unfamiliar, explain the difference between a traditional opera and a chamber opera. What can we expect from this type of performance?

LB: A traditional opera as we know it today is usually large-scale which means a large orchestra, chorus, production scale. Usually its in a larger venue. A chamber opera is usually the opposite in almost every way – a much smaller orchestra, cast, crew, in a smaller venue, and most often shorter in length. However, the size and scale doesn’t have anything to do with how effective both can be.

TCL: With this being the Chicago début of the performance, what makes Chicago a great audience for Charlie Parker’s Yardbird?

LB: Chicago has a wonderful jazz tradition and so many people know and understand the legacy of the great Charlie Parker. While performing this chamber opera; which touches on the music, important people and influences of his life, I hope people will have even a greater appreciation for what Charlie Parker accomplished in his short years.

Photo Credit: Dominic M. Mercier/Opera Philadelphia

Discovering Charlie

TCL: This performance will serve as an introduction to the life of Charlie Parker. What would you say are some of the parallels between you and the legendary Jazz musician?

LB: I am humbled to play the role of Charlie Parker. I cannot begin to compare his incredible impact on jazz music and music in general to what I do as a musician. If I were to draw similarities, I would say dedication and commitment to the instrument. There are accounts of Parker practicing 14 hours a day. Of course, as a singer I cannot practice actual singing that much. However, I am very serious about music; and as a musician/artist, I am committed to being the absolute best I can be. I have been fortunate to have made a name for myself in the discipline for which I am best known – bel canto music, and like Charlie Parker, music is my life; my soul.

TCL: Can you share with us something new you learned about Charlie Parker that you didn’t know before?

LB: Charlie Parker is known for his virtuosity, his ability to play in all keys, and his mastery of transition throughout all key signatures. I learned that he drove himself to master all keys because of an unfortunate incident while playing in a jam session in Kansas City with members of Count Basieʼs orchestra.

As the legend goes, 16-year-old Charlie, complete with a gleaming new saxophone, was onstage playing and introduced a style he had practiced.  He eventually got terribly lost the in the music and could not find his way back and froze onstage. This resulted in the drummer throwing a cymbal at his feet. This incident was highly embarrassing for Charlie, but it led him to redefine and strengthen the very thing that could have short-circuited his career. This  speaks volumes to how committed he was and how driven he was to master his instrument.

Photo Credit: Dominic M. Mercier/Opera Philadelphia

What to Expect

TCL: What’s your favorite Charlie Parker piece that we can expect to hear during the performance?

LB:  Throughout the opera there are recognizable snippets of his music; most notably a direct transcription of his famous alto solo in Night in Tunisia.

 TCL: After watching the performance, what message do you want the audience to walk away with?

LB: I hope people will understand his life, his struggles, his joys and passions, the events of his life, and the impact it had on his music.

TCL: What’s been a highlight for you throughout your Charlie Parker experience?

LB: Working with an incredible team of artists and the knowledge and education about Charlie Parker.

Photo Credit: Dominic M. Mercier/Opera Philadelphia

Why You Should See Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

TCL: Give us your pitch on why we should all see Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.

LB: I think people should see this 90-minute piece that touches on the life of one of the most influential musicians. Charlie Parker had a huge impact not just in jazz, but music in general. I believe it is entertaining and something people will enjoy. It is just a glimpse into his life, but I hope it is enough that people will leave wanting to dig further into the life of the great Charlie Parker.

You can buy tickets for Charlie Parker’s Yardbird HERE.