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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 becomes popular and is known as "bebop."

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