Chasin' the Bird: Charlie Parker in California by David Chisholm (words/story/art) and Peter Markowski (colors.)
I have to start this review off by saying I consider myself an amateur musician. I've played guitar for 20+ years, been in bands in which I wrote and collaborated on music, have played small- and medium-sized venues, and collaborated with musicians on other endeavors. I've also dabbled in drums, bass, and keys; as a youngster I played recorder and trumpet. Jazz has always been a bedrock of much of the music I listen to from classic rock to rap, '90s emo to grindcore metal, it's one of the most influential musical genres there is. But I was never fully "into" jazz. Sure I appreciated it. Who doesn't? Coltrane and Fitzgerald, Miles and Mingus. But I never really delved deeply into it. But I will say with the utmost sincerity that after reading this book, I added a ton of Charlie Parker records to my Apple Music library; as well as some Dizzy and Coltrane. This book made me want to get into jazz. I don't think I've read another book that has pushed me to enjoy the thing that it's talking about. Does that make sense? Like if I were reading a book about pizza, would I want a slice? Probably. But would I want to learn the history of pizza? Probably not. No, Chisholm's tour de force has opened my eyes to a genre of music I've always appreciated, but never truly valued... until now.
The story of Chasin' the Bird follows the legendary Charlie "Yardbird/Bird" Parker during his time in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Told through six parts with six different narrators, including Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane, the reader is given a glimpse into who Charlie Parker was, and what he contributed not only to music, but to art overall. Each story is told from the point of view of the narrator, pulled from various accounts of these narrators. We're shown the happy and giddy Parker, the philosophical and absolutely brilliant Parker, the generous and helpful Parker, but also the broken and down-on-his luck Parker, the addict Parker. Parker lived a troubled life, which led to drug and alcohol abuse, which in turn fueled his tenacity. But in one story, told by Dial Records' founder Ross Russell, suggests that when Bird was at his most sober, he may have been at the height of his genius. That's for the listener to decide. I walked away from this book inspired, enlightened, energized, sad, angry, and with an appetite for jazz.
Chisholm, himself an accomplished musician, truly understands what made Parker such a force in the Jazz community. Yes, we are told a story through the eyes of six people close to Parker, but it's through Chisholm's double duty as writer and artist that those stories come alive. Look at the page above; the fluidity of the page break, the city becoming piano keys, the words Parker speaks that aren't words at all. I think this was only a book that Chisholm could have done as both writer and artist; it takes a true musician to know how to convey Parker's story in this medium. Some accounts are verbose, others short, but Chisholm handles them with ease, making this not a short read, but a breezy one. I found myself engulfed in some pages, just awe-inspired by the story told through pictures. Chisholm is a true talent.
Markowski, though, is the cherry on top. The colors in this book POP. From neo-noir to bright and sunny, each page and each story are enhanced by his color schemes. And as the art itself changes for each story, so too does the color. In one it may be Blade Runner-esque, another campy and fun, but always just right. Markowski is a master of his craft, and it shows.
What a breath of fresh air in the comics medium. A true graphic novel, beholden to neither the monthly serial format nor conventional storytelling, the six narratives about Charlie "Bird" Parker are each masterfully crafted by Chisholm, with a beautiful hand by the talented Markowski. Like the book's subject, Chisholm stands on the shoulders of giants while becoming one himself. I can't wait to see more from him. Now I've got to go listen to some Parker!
You can find the graphic novel Chasin' the Bird: Charlie Parker in California at https://z2comics.com/collections/shop/products/charlie-parker-chasin-the-bird-graphic-novel where you can get the single graphic novel, or with an accompanying LP that has 2 unreleased tracks from Parker!
Also available at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=chasin%27+the+bird&ref=nb_sb_noss_2