Say what you want about Stanley Crouch's opinions on jazz; I've always been impressed with Crouch's writing. "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise And Times of Charlie Parker" is an enthralling read. It's history that reads like fiction. Crouch gives an intimate account of the humble beginnings of Parker, arguably one of the most if not THE most important early figure in jazz. Crouch is so descriptive, you feel like you are actually there in depression era Kansas City. Many books on jazz history can be dull, easily getting bogged down with names and dates. Crouch's presentation draws you in not only to the twists and turns of the life of a troubled genius, but he also helps us understand the foundation on which Parker's genius was built in terms of jazz before bebop: why Kansas City was important in the development of blues and swing in jazz, why musicians like Walter Page, Jay McShann, Count Basie, and Buster Smith were essential to the next step in the development of the music.
Reading about music and musicians can often make one want to put down the books and listen to the music instead. Crouch may assume that the reader is already aware of Parker's musical genius. Crouch's in depth descriptions of the drama of Parker's personal turmoil, whether with drugs or his first wife Rebecca or his yearning to be a great musician beyond Kansas City, will hopefully make the jazz novice seek out recordings and make jazz aficionados revisit Parker's music. I've definitely gained more detailed inspiration for my jazz history classes from this book. "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise And Times of Charlie Parker" will make you look at the transition of jazz from swing to Bebop in a whole new way.