A graphic tale of Charlie Parker and his art, Dave Chisholm's Chasin' the Bird
September 15, 2020
Dave Chisholm straddles a number of arts. He is an accomplished trumpet player, composer, and educator who lives and gigs in several genres around Rochester (well, pre-pandemic, that is...), where he received his doctorate in jazz trumpet from the Eastman School of Music in 2013. He is also a talented cartoonist who uses that art, combined with music, to tell stories that can draw you in and teach you something about something few outside the world of music or jazz could reach on their own. In 2017, I wrote here about his graphic novel Instrumental that followed jazz trumpeter Tom as he seeks to reach the next level in his art ... at a dear cost. This month, Chisholm is publishing a new graphic novel Chasin’ the Bird: Charlie Parker in Californi, 144 pages commissioned by the Charlie Parker estate with Instrumental’s publisher Z2 Comics in celebration of the Centennial of Bird’s birth. It explores the period beginning in 1945 during which Parker traveled to California with a band put together by his friend Dizzy Gillespie for a residence at a well-known club in LA.
Through recollections of those who crossed his path during this time on the West Coast, interviews with Bird, biographies, and other real and imagined situations and conversations, Chisholm builds a story that tries to capture this time in Bird’s life, the effect of his obsessions and the drugs, and sources of Bird’s musical genius. As Chisholm recounted in a recent interview with Publisher’s Weekly:
A huge part of the Charlie Parker story is the myth-building, legends, the impossible tall tales that could not be true, but could be true, and all the different versions of the same story—like a Rashomon kind of storytelling…. So there’s the legend side of Charlie Parker, versus the reality of Charlie Parker. So that angle led me to the storytelling method used in the book, where there’s a series of vignettes; each one from the point of view of someone whose life intersected with Charlie’s during that time.
As with Instrumental, I sat down and consumed a PDF of Chasin' the Bird in one sitting with a soundtrack of Bird playing on the stereo to accompany the images (Chisholm had written and performed a soundtrack for Instrumental). Again, I was lost in the story and images. A hour or so (and a few LP sides…) later I had learned so much about Parker's short life and felt like I had peeked behind a curtain to get some understanding of his compositions and playing. Each vignette is drawn in a different style and through these changes in style, Chisholm explores Bird’s life and his music and through this approach tries to fulfill the reason that the Parker estate had commissioned him, again as told to Publisher’s Weekly: "to reach people who wouldn't otherwise find Charlie Parker’s music” through a medium that he thought would help to synchronize the "temporal aspect of music, versus the temporal aspect of a still drawing.”
Chasin the Bird will be published in mid-October and I encourage you to get a copy of Chasin' the Bird, slap a Parker LP or disk (or stream) on your ears and dive in. It’s worth the ride. Here’s a link on Chisholm’s site for more info and links or you can order direct from Z2 Comics or your favorite online content provider.