Celebrating Bird The Triumph of Charlie Parker Documentary


The 80s were the Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker rediscovery decade. In 1988 Clint Eastwood made Bird – a celebrated and Oscar-crowned biography of Parker with Forest Whitaker in the main role. It was actually one year after Gary Giddins brought to the TV screen the documentary Celebrating Bird inspired by his own book about Parker. I do not know what the relation between the two exactly is, but the documentary certainly is of great interest for jazz fans, and in perspective the two films – documentary and feature – are worth to be watched together.

The strong side of the documentary which I recently watched on the French music channel Mezzo are the interviews. During the 80s many of his colleagues in the generation that invented be-bop and constituted the backbone of the New York jazz scene in 40s and 50s were still around. Catching Dizzy Gillespie talk about the music and collaboration with Parker, or the two women in his life giving direct testimony about his private life are unique opportunities which were possible then. The interviews are combined with many fine musical pieces, all in perfect conditions which allow us see and listen to Charlie Parker playing with such artists as Louis Armstrong or Gillespie.

A musical roads opener through his style, and a poignant and impressive personality in life, Parker’s image was amplified by his early and tragical death which cut short his career. Here he seems to have anticipated the fate of many rock musicians in the 60s and 70s – Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison – which all have lived short and intense lives, and died consumed by their art and by their addiction.It is by the music they made that they survive and this documentary makes Parker a good service recording first hand details of his life and career. – IMDB


January 17th, 2014

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Author: Paul Thomson