'Yardbird' brings music, life of jazz legend Charlie Parker to Apollo Theater

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Monday, April 4, 2016
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Sandy Kenyon is in Harlem with the story

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- More than 60 years have passed since the death of Charlie Parker, but his music continues to resonate because he changed the sound of jazz forever.

Now, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, his life is being celebrated with a plaque on the Walk of Fame.

The giant of jazz was remembered in a way that Parker would've appreciated, and at the temple where he played, one of his apostles came to bear witness.

"He made it clear, and his spirit is still here," Jimmy Heath said.

At the age of 91, Heath is one of the last to have played with the man who helped define the style of music known as Bebop. His nickname was "Bird," short for "Yardbird," a nickname with origins in the south and the name of a new opera inspired by his life.

Lawrence Brownlee sings the title role in the first opera ever to be performed at the Apollo.

"For me to be in the Apollo Theater, such an historic and important place where there's a legacy of music and a tradition of great music making, is a tremendous honor for me," Brownlee said.

"Yardbird" begins minutes after Parker's death in Manhattan at the age of just 34 and imagines him musing on his life, especially the women.

"It was a life full of hardship, of course brilliance and virtuosity, but it was complex in the fact that he had a lot of struggles to deal with," Brownlee said. "His music, I think you can see elements of his music and his brilliance every