168 | Dave Chisholm (Chasin’ the Bird)

My Summer Lair Chapter #168: Was Charlie Parker Free As A Bird?

Let’s jazz up My Summer Lair with a discussion about Charlie Parker aka Bird. (Well Bird for short…his proper nickname was Yardbird.)

Miles Davis once said, “You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.”

Charlie (Bird) Parker was a jazz saxophonist born in 1920 who died in 1955 a combination of pneumonia and heart attack…well really ill health from a well lived life where he didn’t often make healthy choices. (“The coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker’s 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60 years of age.” I dunno if it that’s true but it feels true considering the choices Bird made.)

As always every grave stone has that dash between birth and death dates that signifies a life and for Charlie Parker what a life.

“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” So says Charlie Parker.

If you don’t know Charlie Parker’s jazz music you may know Bird the Clint Eastwood movie from 1988; Parker was deftly played by Forest Whitaker.

(The movie is a bit slow but otherwise is a solid biopic. I prefer a documentary over a biopic but considering Bird died in 1955 I doubt there is enough footage for a full length documentary.)

Anyways that dash between birth and death is depicted in Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California a graphic novel by comic book creator Dave Chisholm. (The forward is written by the #GOAT Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who is a major jazz fan and yes reads and writes comic books.)

This “Bird’s Eye View” of Charlie Parker’s life and special contributions to jazz was commissioned by his estate to celebrate the centennial anniversary of his birth. It’s fascinating they commissioned a graphic novel; talk about novel for true.

What makes the graphic novel a captivating project is that in Clint’s movie you can see the jazz being performed…you can hear the jazz…the literal music. How do you present jazz a sonic medium in a static medium like a graphic novel?

Indeed Dave Chisholm succeeds and over the course of this My Summer Lair exchange he’ll reveal some of his artistic techniques and his approach to crafting Chasin’ the Bird.

The graphic novel is brimming with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and many more talented humans from that era. It’s a solid comic highly recommended. I mean it is incredible: a hundred years after his birth Charlie Parker and his potent jazz work earned a graphic novel.

Dave Chisholm @ WT F

Host & Photography by Sammy Younan

Recorded: Thursday December 3, 2020 at 2pm (EST)

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