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In late 1946, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie headed west for a two-month stint at Billy Berg’s nightclub in Hollywood. Parker’s raging drug habit and eccentric proclivities made it a challenging gig for Gillespie and their bandmates, but when it came time to return to New York, Parker stayed behind, much to the concern of his friend and fellow bebop pioneer.
This period of Bird’s life is chronicled in Dave Chisholm’s 2020 graphic novel Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California (Z2). The tale unfolds in six “choruses,” each told from the point of view of someone whose life intersected with Parker’s during his West Coast stay (with the exception of the first chapter, which is related by Gillespie). Ensuing chapters, each utilizing first-person narration, include reminiscences from the found-object artist Jirayr Zorthian, jazz photographer William Claxton, sculptor Julie McDonald, saxophone icon John Coltrane and Dial Records chief Ross Russell, allowing for plenty of revealing conversations with Bird about his philosophies on art, music and various existential topics.
Chisholm based his narratives on actual accounts by the participants, with each chapter depicted in a different illustrative style, and uses as a framing device Bird’s “comeback show” at Jack’s Basket Room in L.A. on New Year’s Eve 1947.
In the following excerpt, a young Coltrane turns up on the doorstep of Lester Young, who was then living in Los Angeles, during one of Young’s Monday jam sessions. Young introduces him to Bird, who listens to Coltrane play and then provides some invaluable advice.
Click on the slideshow below to enlarge.
Featured images and graphic novel excerpt by Dave Chisholm, courtesy of Z2 Comics.