I was in my Dad’s house yesterday and forgot to borrow a movie he owns that I really want to watch again. It’s called “Bird” and it’s directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Forest Whitaker as Charlie “Bird” Parker, arguably one of the greatest jazz saxophonists who ever lived.
Charlie Parker was born in Kansas in 1920 and began playing the saxophone as a young boy aged about eleven. His love for the instrument grew and as an older teenager he often practised for up to fifteen hours a day, hungry to become a better player. Parker moved to New York in 1939, having earned his chops playing with many local bands and also having toured. He soon met up with Dizzy Gillespie and other soon to be jazz icons such as Thelonius Monk, Max Roach, Bud Powell and Coleman Hawkins.
Parker’s career was marred by heroin addiction and to a lesser extent, alcohol. Due to his addictions he spent time in Camarillo State Mental Hospital and wrote “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” about his time there. When he died aged just thirty-four the coroner who attended estimated his age to be around fifty as his body was so ravaged by addiction.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie and for some reason I have a hankering to watch it again. Forest Whitaker is incredible in the film and he won Best Actor at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Bird. Clint Eastwood is a piano player and a huge jazz aficionado and his respect and empathy for Parker come across strongly throughout the film.
(As an aside, myself and my father have long maintained a tradition of naming our pets after dead jazz musicians. We’ve had Miles, Dizzy, Duke and Day. We were going to name one of our dogs Bird in tribute to Charlie Parker, but we thought it might cause a canine identity crisis.)