Group offering tour of KC’s jazz history this weekend, celebrating legend Charlie Parker

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If jazz music had its own Mount Rushmore, Charlie Parker's face would be there.

"The Bird," who claimed Kansas City as his home, is known worldwide as a musical great. The ongoing Charlie Parker Celebration in Kansas City pays tribute to the master of the saxophone and offers a chance for fans to play where Parker did.

Some music lovers have referred to "the Bird" as being the most important jazz musician ever. Very few people in Kansas City's historic 18th and Vine District would argue.

On Saturday morning, Greg Carroll, a member of the board for KC Jazz Alive, and other organizers from the Charlie Parker Celebration will lead a tour of sites where Parker and other musicians of his day played. It will begin with the historic Gem Theatre where Parker and his peers were prone to impress.

Jazz wouldn't sound as sweet without bebop, the lively sound that flowed from Parker's golden horn. Carroll and others are still jamming to it more than 60 years after the Bird's passing in 1955.

The vibe of Parker's passion is still alive in the city's Jazz District, which, at one point, was the epicenter of Kansas City's African-American community. Carroll pointed out that was partly due to Jim Crow and other laws of the era, which were steeped in racial segregation.

"This is the area where African-Americans, my fellow black folk, could do business and could live," said Carroll, who, at one point, was a professor of music at the University of Colorado.

This Saturday, a $40 ticket will take fans on a walking tour around eight spots in the Jazz District, including 12th and Vine, a gathering spot where dozens of Kansas City musicians kept time. A monument with photos from the Civil Rights era showed the creativity delivered by dozens of those musicians.

"We thought it would be great because the tour not only rolls, but it gets people inspired. It whets their appetite to want to come out and support live jazz," Carroll said Wednesday.

He said tour-goers will also mount a bus for a visit to "the bowl," a green space at 13th and the Paseo, where musicians of the day cut their chops performing for each other.

"After their gigs, they'd come down here and play in all the clubs," said Mike Corrigan, owner of BAC Musical Instruments.

Corrigan's company creates brass horns for musicians across the globe, including some used by professional music makers who perform with Bruno Mars, Beyonce and others.

Corrigan said Kansas Citians should take an interest in this tour, even if jazz isn't their groove.

"What Kansas City has that nobody else has is the Kansas City music culture. I would be interested to take this tour to make me more in tune with what defines Kansas City and what made us what we are today," Corrigan told FOX4's Sean McDowell.

Corrigan and Carroll said they're playing a song of hope for the future. Carroll said he hopes this tour can help stimulate more interest in the music scene's past and, perhaps, lead Kansas City to find its next jazz master.

The annual Charlie Parker Celebration continues through Saturday night. You can follow this link to check out the festival's website and learn more about the history tours.

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