Looking deeper into the astrology of Ornette Coleman inevitably led me to the astrology of Charlie Parker. Bird is where Ornette started. Thanks to Massimo Magee who asked me when I would do Eric Dolphy’s chart. That idea made me realize I had to go to Bird first. Looking closely at Bird’s cosmic relationship with the universe leads to what I call the forbidden questions. Some people feel there are questions that shouldn’t be asked. Bird’s chart contains a clarity that brings insight into the extreme nature of his life experience, and maybe even a few answers. As usual, I defer to Amir Bey, Charles Downs, and the late great Will Connell as the jazz masters of astrology. My interpretations are based on the work of Jeffrey Wolf Greene and stem from my own astrology where my Pluto in the 9th house placement gives me a window into the world where Bern Nix is currently talking shop with Juan Quinonez. Rest in peace Juan.
Bird’s chart is available online, with a solid source of his birth time from the website Bird Lives! He was born August 29th, 1920 at 1:45 AM in Kansas City. He would be on the verge of his 100th birthday today. Bird had his Sun in Virgo in the third house of communication, but not only that. His Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn were also in Virgo in the third house. All of that power in one house is known as a stellium. A stellium is when three or more planets converge in one house, turning up the volume, and denote a very specific mission that the soul was on. A stellium also denotes enormous artistic power. Bird’s mission as a soul was the creation of his music. The sun in the 3rd house denotes a performer. A human being with something to say not just to those around them, but to everyone, and sometimes the whole world. Bird has been doing just that through his music for many years since he left town. All of this Virgo in his chart suggests a desire to help other people. Bird did help other musicians during his life, especially trumpet players as I’ve written about on All About Jazz. I see this as what his music has done for the world. There isn’t a jazz musician on Earth who has not learned something about music from him. Every alto saxophone student who has lived since and ever will live, will inevitably cross paths with him, quite possibly through the Omnibook. Another expression of Bird’s Virgo power is the ability to get into the details of something. This manifests in his almost superhuman ability to navigate harmony at any tempo. His precision, while being lyrical at any tempo, was something he certainly worked at, but is at a level that seems to come from beyond this world. It may come as no surprise that Bird shares a different placement, Pluto in the 12th house, with Johann Sebastian Bach. Regardless, Bird was into the harmonic details of what he was doing, every second that he was playing. Venus in Virgo, artistic beauty, might be Bird’s actual music, ready to be delivered to the world. His Venus sextile Mars is having a zest for life, and a need to experience life on an intense level, and also a popular or famous person. Venus sextile Bird’s ascendant in Cancer is strong partnerships such as the one he had with as he called him, the other half of his heartbeat, the great Dizzy Gillespie. Jupiter in Virgo in the third house contains a love of learning and constant evolution. Bird had a desire to go deeper as a composer. Saturn in Virgo in the third house gave Bird the tenacity and patience to develop his craft.
Bird had all that Virgo Earth in the third house, but standing side by side with him are his Ascendant in Cancer and the Moon in Pisces in the ninth house, two powerful aspects of water and emotional expression. These placements denote a sensitive person behind his public mask. When Bird played music however, there was no mask. His myriad of sensitive emotions flowed through his river of sound. Bird’s ability to express emotion through his music is at the center of his power. Live recordings such as live at Rockland Palace, or Bird with the Herd contain an exuberance and joy on a level I’ve never heard from any other jazz musician. The Cancer ascendant is a person in need of structure, which I believe Bird attempted through Doris and Chan. The Moon in Pisces signifies the soul of an artist, and a gift to express sensitive emotion, and, the ability to read a crowd. All of the emotions in this placement could have been the reason Bird sought out an escape through heroin. Moon in Pisces contains the dangers of addiction as a means of escape. Bird had five aspects to the Moon in the 9th House, constantly pushing and pulling on his emotions. Miles said he was moody! The aspects contain a deep need for stimulation outside of normal experience, and the capacity for great learning, and listening. Bird could live a fantasy to a degree and envision the fantasy in his music, and communicate it. We have to wonder what his symphonies would have sounded like. I do not think they would be Bebop! From an artistic and expressive perspective, it should be no surprise that Bird shares a Pisces Moon with Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert DeNiro, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Michelangelo.
I can’t deny that I went on a search to understand Bird’s addiction as it related to his life overall. I believe I found the heart of it, from an astrology perspective. Mars in Scorpio in the 5th House, Square Jupiter. The fifth house is the house of pleasure, entertainment, and love. Mars is the planet of action. Mars in Scorpio is the highest potency for this relationship. It contains an extreme power and energy source that could also lead to toxic behavior as somewhat of a side effect. This placement also speaks to an extreme relationship with sex, a huge part of jazz that I feel is often not discussed. When I studied with Ornette, he spoke about sex more than anything else, always keeping it the TRUE real. Sex may have been just as important to Bird as drugs and alcohol. We don’t have as much evidence of course, but the love letters researched by Stanley Crouch, Miles Davis autobiography, and stories from Symphony Sid contain windows into that aspect of Bird’s life. Heroin was not what it was all about, but rather one result of a soul that wanted to penetrate the mystery of itself, and may embark on a dangerous confrontation with compulsive behavior. Bird shared this aspect with Jimi Hendrix. His relationship with Scorpio, the extreme, was taken all the way with his North Node in Scorpio, also in the fifth house. Compounding the relationship, the North Node is in Retrograde, turning up the volume and increasing the tempo. As interpreted by an Astrologer named Wayman, this aspect could be instructions for Bird on how to live his life. Wayman reads the aspect as “I Desire.” A soul that needs to go deeper than most. A soul that wants risk and danger. A soul that needs to live a high-wire act with no net. It could be that Bird chose to make his music right from this very personal place that he chose to operate from on a soul level. For a deeper look into heroin, I’ll recommend the documentary titled The Devil’s Horn. Jimmy Heath invites us into the deeper realities of the experience. As for me, I wont do it. Raphe Malik warned me away. Whatever the deeper and complex relationship that Bird had with himself was, he spoke out against the use of tea, the needle, or drink to enhance your playing. For him, music was more important than anything else.
Now we journey to some of Bird’s outer planets. Out here we get more abstract, and yes, more extreme. Bird had Uranus in the ninth house in Retrograde. This implies a rebellious mind in search of a personal truth, and a need to break from society on some level. A freedom of belief is required. This is the placement of someone on an unconventional life path, though with romantic ideals. A person with innovative ideas that can change everything. The bottom line here is the potential for genius, and Bird was one of the few and true. Neptune in Leo in the 2nd second house is straight and simple, indicating a creative and gifted mind that is also broke! Bird certainly wasn’t rich. Pluto in Cancer in the twelfth House is where we climb all the way to the top of the mountain. As written by Jeffrey Wolf Greene, those with this placement have a direct desire to dissolve all barriers preventing the merging of their individual power into the cosmic whole in order to experience or realize the ultimate source of power. The soul is aware of their own immortality. In certain cases these souls can become powerful icons. Through the power of their belief in themselves they have the ability to captivate the interest, imagination, support or persecution of mass consciousness. Bird was simultaneously challenged to understand whatever dark side he may have possessed internally. He was a very complex individual. Howard McGhee said that Bird had the psychiatrist at Camarillo vexed, and maybe even caused them to reverse roles. The psychiatrist committed suicide years later, though I’m sure it wasn’t caused by Bird. Bird certainly had a relationship of sorts with death. Doris Parker said he had a death mask that he kept displayed in their apartment despite her pleas for him to get rid of it. Studying Bird’s life led me to my own discovery about the death process: For some souls, the process of death and how it is experienced is the final intrinsic part of the lessons sought during the lifetime. The lesson is then completed upon death with a deepening understanding immediately after. Bird died on March 12th, 1955 at 34 years old. I’ve often wondered if a shorter life gives you more power while you’re alive. Do you live 75 years in 30? It happens so often with the masters of jazz. Studying Bird’s quest, I think there is some truth to it. As a soul, Bird chose a very specific course, that while extreme, placed him in the environment he wanted and needed to be in to make that music. As always, for musicians that live life on this level, it’s all about the music they made, and then left for us.
Checking out some additional aspects in Bird’s chart cement everything we’ve been seeing. Sun opposite moon suggests an internal struggle with needs vs wants, along with extreme energy fluctuations. He may have had an improvised sleep pattern that never allowed him to truly rest. Despite the adversity, the time he spent at Camarillo was Bird’s only known breakdown, though of course he had an early death. Sun opposite Uranus suggests a love-hate relationship with his own uniqueness. We would have to sit in therapy with him to figure that one out. His identity rode on a common theme, freedom. Jupiter opposite Uranus is more freedom. Bird believed in other’s freedom as well. He was amazingly non-judgmental when pressed and believed in musical expression above all. Sun conjunct Jupiter is a positive person that could live life to excess. This is when you trust life to straighten out problems for you, or just trust life enough to live it! Mars square Jupiter was Bird’s music: playfulness, daring, and again, freedom. It also contains a difficult insatiable desire. Overall, Bird’s chart is all earth and water with only two fire aspects. We are drawn to what we lack, and Bird had no air in his chart, but the love of his life Chan, had her sun in Cancer, a water sign. It’s quite possible she had a lot of air elsewhere in her chart. Living with Bird must have been intense. Doris said Bird would somehow set the hamper on fire. Chan said he was the only person she ever saw smoke in the shower.
Today in 2019, Charlie Parker is as popular as ever. Some people still see the addiction first, but his life was far, far beyond that. Dizzy Gillespie was reluctant to even mention it, and stressed that Bird was so much more than that. Like so many jazz musicians I stand in awe at Bird’s skill level. What touches me far more however is his ability to convey some of the deepest emotions ever expressed in music. People deep into Bird are often at a loss to talk about the power of emotion expressed in his sound. Sometimes we don’t know what Bird is feeling, but the feeling itself is often overwhelming. I feel that both Ornette and John Coltrane walked this path after him. Regardless of all the intellectual and technical innovation, it’s their human expression that becomes a part of you when you hear it.
That’s what I feel Charlie Parker was and still is all about. It’s all about the joy of being alive. You’re alive, so try and become the best human being you can be. We have his famous quote:
“Music is your own experience. Your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music, but man, there’s no boundary line to art.”
Fly among the clouds.
Soar, like Bird.