Parker wrote this about the time he spent at Camarillo State Hospital in Ventura County, California. He was sent there after spending 10 days in jail, charged with indecent exposure, resisting arrest, and suspected arson.
Charlie parker moved to California from New York after cashing in his return ticket for heroin money. During this time junk was hard to come by, and he substituted it with large quantities of alcohol, which greatly altered his behavior for the worse. Parker racked up a string of charges, including indecent exposure, resisting arrest and suspected arson, which led to a 10 day stint in prison. All of these offenses happened on a single unlucky night - July 29, 1946 - when Parker had streaked through a hotel lobby, then set his hotel bed on fire with an unsupervised cigarette.
In Ross Russel's biography, Bird Lives (published in 1973,) he describes the incident that led to Parker's arrest and rehabilitation. "The very next night after that infamous session [part of the "Dial sessions" recorded in Los Angeles], Bird got drunk and set his hotel room on fire. He was found wandering in the hall of his hotel and in the street, half naked. He was arrested and was sent to the Psychopathic Ward of the Los Angeles State Jail, booked as insane."
Parker stayed at Camarillo for six months. He wrote "Relaxin' at Camarillo" shortly after his release from the hospital, and his return to New York where his heroin addiction continued.
In Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouak's book Dharma Bums (published in 1958) he describes Camarillo as a place "where Charlie Parker'd been mad and relaxed back to normal health."
Camarillo was known as the "Country Club" when compared to the other local state mental hospitals of Norwark and Patton.
While in Camarillo, Parker played saxophone in the hospital band, and they performed in a small bandstand on Saturday nights. He also passed time there by tending a lettuce patch. His third wife, Doris Sydnor, moved to California so that she could visit him three times a week. She had to take a job as a waitress to support herself.
The first version of this song was arranged by the foremost Jazz theorist, pianist and composer George Russell. Russell was the author of The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (published in 1953), a work of biblical importance for Jazz musicians and educators that had a far reaching impact on Bebop musicians including Miles Davis and Bill Evans in developing a modal style of Jazz in the late 1950s.
"Relaxin' at Camarillo" was first recorded in 1947 on Parker's sober return to Los Angeles after his hospital stay, with Charlie Parker who was also sober at that time. They recorded the number as part of the famous Dial Sessions (1954-1957), an indispensable part of his musical oeuvre recorded at Dial Records in Hollywood.
Camarillo State Hospital closed in July 1997. The campus of California State University, Channel Islands, now occupies the site since 2002. (thanks, Victor – San Diego, CA)
The Beverley Hills Hotel has sometimes been misrecognized as Camarillo State Hospital on the front cover of the Eagles Hotel California album. The two buildings have very similar tower structures and are both in California. However, a closer comparison between them shows that the hospital only has one main tower, while the hotel has two smaller towers to either side of the large central tower. This mistaken identity has given rise to fan interpretations of the lyrics of "Hotel California" as being a metaphor for a mental hospital.