Those are the words of Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist also known as Bird, who was born on Aug. 29, 1920. Parker was arguably the greatest genius of the bebop era and indeed, one of the finest American musicians of the 20th century.

You might be tempted to take his words literally when you hear the seemingly effortless grace and ease of his virtuosic improvisational style. His freewheeling solos made up on the spot are pure freedom, right?

Wrong. Jazz, like all serious art, is slavish in its adherence to boundaries and rules. And therein it achieves the nature of true freedom, in both art and life.

Some may see Parker’s demise as an excess of freedom, but his own work teaches us that this interpretation is a misunderstanding of the term. Had he exercised the discipline in the rest of his life that he possessed as a musician, he would have been truly free — free to make music for decades more, and free to enjoy his life while doing it. Instead, his lack of self-mastery brought him to addiction, which is the ultimate subjugation...

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