Recently, I had the opportunity to have a long chat with artist/writer/musician Dave Chisholm about his work, influences, and of course his new title Chasin’ the Bird. It was a great talk and it gave a further glimpse into the stylings of an incredible creator and YOU can check it out! Click any of the links at the top of the page to listen for yourself. While it’s not necessary to understand the following review, I think you’ll find an even greater appreciation for the work if you do. Also be sure to check out Canopus and The Tyranny of the Muse, and Instrumental.
Since that interview I’ve had the chance to read Chasin’ the Bird and absolutely adored it. For those of you who haven’t listened yet, the full title is Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in California, both written and drawn by Dave, colored by Peter Markowski and published by the musically inclined comic publisher Z2 Comics. If you’re unaware of who Charlie “Bird” Parker was, he’s a legendary jazz saxophonist who created a lot of standards for the medium as well as more than a few stories with folks he met along the way, this book respectfully captures some of those stories from when Charlie spent his time in California in the latter half of the 1940s.
Write off the bat the book shows how liked and sought after Parker and his music were. Framed as a return performance at Jack’s Basket Room we see the stories of six different individuals who had Charlie Parker in their lives during his California stay. These include past lovers, journalists, and others in the music business such as John Coltrane. Though this graphic novel is one single work it is organized and split up in such a way that make it feel like parts of a whole (by excellent design). Within each chapter [or “Chorus” as they are labelled] we see one-shots of his interactions, signifying how each relationship with him was it’s own story.
The first account set us up well, showing us Charlie’s initial decision to move to California through the eyes of his dear friend, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who doesn’t agree with the choice. This was an excellent spring board, as it shows the reader how respected Charlie was but also how he had demons at the start of his journey that would follow him through the end. From there we see the eccentricities and the aphrodisiac of his music as well as the VIPs that welcome him and indulge him, causing the production of incredible music, but occasionally at great personal cost. Charlie “Bird” Parker clearly had a big life, and though you can’t say it was all good, you can’t deny that he used his talents and company to enrich those around him. The craziest part about that is that this is just one chapter in his history, but I digress. As time goes on and Charlie falls more into the indulgences he is presented, there is a shift not unfamiliar to the fears that Dizzy had, but I don’t want to spoil this ride through music history.
Matching the complexity of Charlie’s character is the storytelling of Dave and Peter. Through each of these moments we are greeted with varying art styles, almost feeling like we are seeing more of an anthology of memories about Charlie. With differing levels of shading and graphic detail, each story has it’s own tone and with that, a brand new side to learn about the musician. I personally found that giving each person’s recounting it’s own look did a lot in giving these events more of a voice, as opposed to if it had a singular style. Dave has a lot of unique design choices in this book. Between these covers you’ll find overlapping geometry, panels, and a lack of panels that presents a reading experience capable of strong visual and mental investment. Along with that are Peter’s colors, often in an ethereal form of neon or deep blue/greens, bringing form to the more musical sections of the book. When that color scheme is put atop Dave’s illustration the result is moments that feel grand, not just in the lives of those Charlie encounters, but in music history in general. I feel like it can be a challenge to add proper visualization to a song and performer but in this book it truly felt like it was hot and sweaty to play music, and can be hypnotic for those experiencing it. The way Charlie himself is depicted playing, it looks like every time he played the sax it almost poured out of him.
I’m going to be perfectly honest, before I saw the announcement of this book a few months back I wasn’t really aware of who Charlie Parker was or his numerous contributions, achievements, and hardships. However, reading this and seeing the amount of historical care and honest love for this visionary that Dave Chishom and Peter Markowski put into the story as well as the somewhat mythical ere around Charlie Parker, I see I was doing myself a disservice. If you are a fan of music, the history behind it, and how it can effect not only those in it but their loved ones, I can’t recommend this book enough. You can order a copy here, and if you get the deluxe edition it comes with a vinyl 45 with 2 unreleased Charlie “Bird” Parker tracks.
Written and recorded by Drew