In 1939 Kansas City, Missouri, young alto saxophone player Charlie "Bird" Parker (Forest Whitaker) performs at the Reno Club. However, his rapid and sporadic playing gets him jeered offstage. Moving to New York City, Charlie begins performing at different jazz venues on 52nd Street and meets trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (Samuel E. Wright). While Charlie performs with Dizzy, their specific style of jazz develops a following and is known as "bebop."
One evening, Charlie meets Chan Parker (Diane Venora), a dancer and jazz lover. Attracted to Chan, Charlie continually asks her out, but she refuses his advances and moves to Chicago, Illinois. Later, Chan returns from Chicago and confesses she is pregnant with another man’s child. Upset, Charlie leaves for Los Angeles, California, to perform with Dizzy.
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