It is well-documented that alto saxophonist Charlie Parker’s tragic addiction to heroin served as a prominent and unfortunate sidebar to his musical brilliance. This fifty-nine minute DVD originally issued in VHS format, was written and co-produced by award-winning jazz journalist and author, Gary Giddins. The film chronicles Parkers upbringing in Kansas City and obsession with music at an early age. Hence, Parker asked his mother to buy him an alto sax when he was twelve, yet at the time, music schools didn’t allow blacks. And he grew up admiring early tenor sax giants such as Leon "Chu" Berry, Lester Young, trumpeter Louis Armstrong and big band leader/alto saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey.
Interview clips of one-time boss and bandleader Jay McShann discusses Parker’s personality, quirks and mesmeric technical gifts, hearkening back to the blossoming late 1930’s Kansas City jazz scene. There are some interesting anecdotes by Parker’s common-law wife Chan, citing sociological battles concerning interracial relationships and the devastating loss of their daughter Pree. Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes and others offer heartwarming reminisces of Parker amid period footage and photographs. Interestingly enough, the movie spawns a memory-lane type muse of the hip, bebop lifestyle, which was often mimicked in TV commercials and advertisements.
Parker’s infamous bop piece "Koko," was a variation of saxophonist/bandleader, Charlie Barnett’s classic "Cherokee," And the film traces Parker’s late 1940’s glory years and experiences in Europe. He was imitated and analyzed. However, Parker extended his musicality with strings sections under the direction of producer Norman Granz. Other musings include Parker’s desire to diminish his use of heroine, while drinking cheap wine to compensate for the high. Parker also felt that bop was mistreated by the media. We also see the fabled 1951 clip of Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, accepting Downbeat magazine awards on columnist Earl Wilson’s TV show "Stage Entrance", along with assistance from jazz journalist and composer, Leonard Feather." Nonetheless, we are treated to a concise overview of Parker’s legacy, nicely balanced with discussions of his persona and aspirations. Sentiment is reinforced as the program is embellished with a soundtrack of his amazingly fluent phrasings. In effect, one might get the impression that Parker was summoned from the heavens to cast an aura that nestled itself within the production.