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Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie in 1955
Background information
Birth name John Birks Gillespie
Born (1917-10-21)October 21, 1917
Cheraw, South Carolina, U.S.
Died January 6, 1993(1993-01-06) (aged 75)
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupations Musician, composer
Instruments Trumpet
Years active 1935–1993
Associated acts Charlie Parker, Cab Calloway

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, singer and composer.

As an instrumentalist, bandleader, singer, and composer, Gilliespie was the youngest of nine children. His father was a local bandleader, so instruments were made available to him at an early age. He started to play the piano at the age of 9.

Nicknamed Dizzy because of how he acts during performances, Gillespie set new standards for trumpet players with his innovative rhythmic and harmonic explorations. This definitive change moved American jazz from swing to 'bebop'. Together with Charlie Parker, he was a major figure in the development of modern jazz.

Gillespie died on January 6, 1993 at age 75 from pancreatic cancer. At the time of his death Gillespie had two funerals. One was a Bahá´í funeral at his request, at which his closest friends and colleagues attended. The second was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York open to the public where everyone can attend.

Biography

Early life and career

Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones, Mary lou Williams, Milt Orent. Ca.August 1947 (Gottlieb)
Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Hank Jones, Mary Lou Williams and Milt Orent in 1947

Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina, the youngest of nine children of James and Lottie Gillespie. James was a local bandleader, so instruments were made available to the children. Gillespie started to play the piano at the age of four. Gillespie's father died when he was only ten years old. Gillespie taught himself how to play the trombone as well as the trumpet by the age of twelve. From the night he heard his idol, Roy Eldridge, play on the radio, he dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. He received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina which he attended for two years before accompanying his family when they moved to Philadelphia.

Gillespie's first professional job was with the Frank Fairfax Orchestra in 1935, after which he joined the respective orchestras of Edgar Hayes and Teddy Hill, essentially replacing Roy Eldridge as first trumpet in 1937. Teddy Hill's band was where Gillespie made his first recording, "King Porter Stomp". In August 1937 while gigging with Hayes in Washington D.C., Gillespie met a young dancer named Lorraine Willis who worked a Baltimore–Philadelphia–New York City circuit which included the Apollo Theater. Willis was not immediately friendly but Gillespie was attracted anyway. The two finally married on May 9, 1940. They remained married until his death in 1993.

Gillespie stayed with Teddy Hill's band for a year, then left and free-lanced with numerous other bands. In 1939, Gillespie joined Cab Calloway's orchestra, with which he recorded one of his earliest compositions, the instrumental "Pickin' the Cabbage", in 1940. (Originally released on Paradiddle, a 78rpm backed with a co-composition with Cozy Cole, Calloway's drummer at the time, on the Vocalion label, No. 5467).

Tadd Dameron, Mary Lou Williams and Dizzy Gillespie. (Gottlieb)
Tadd Dameron, Mary Lou Williams and Dizzy Gillespie in 1947

After a notorious altercation between the two men, Calloway fired Gillespie in late 1941. The incident is recounted by Gillespie, along with fellow Calloway band members Milt Hinton and Jonah Jones, in Jean Bach's 1997 film, The Spitball Story. Calloway did not approve of Gillespie's mischievous humor, nor of his adventuresome approach to soloing; according to Jones, Calloway referred to it as "Chinese music". Finally, their grudge for each other erupted over a thrown spitball. Calloway never thought highly of Gillespie, because he didn't view Gillespie as a good musician. Once during a rehearsal, a member of the band threw a spitball. Already in a foul mood, Calloway decided to blame this on Gillespie. In order to clear his name, Gillespie didn’t take the blame and the problem quickly escalated into a fist fight, then a knife fight. Calloway had minor cuts on the thigh and wrist. After the two men were separated, Calloway fired Gillespie. A few days later, Gillespie tried to apologize to Calloway, but he was dismissed.

During his time in Calloway's band, Gillespie started writing big band music for bandleaders like Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey. He then freelanced with a few bands – most notably Ella Fitzgerald's orchestra, composed of members of the late Chick Webb's band, in 1942.

Gillespie did not serve in World War II. At his Selective Service interview, he told the local board, "in this stage of my life here in the United States whose foot has been in my ass?" He was thereafter classed as 4-F. In 1943, Gillespie joined the Earl Hines band. Composer Gunther Schuller said:

" ... In 1943 I heard the great Earl Hines band which had Bird in it and all those other great musicians. They were playing all the flatted fifth chords and all the modern harmonies and substitutions and Gillespie runs in the trumpet section work. Two years later I read that that was 'bop' and the beginning of modern jazz ... but the band never made recordings."

Gillespie said of the Hines band, "[p]eople talk about the Hines band being 'the incubator of bop' and the leading exponents of that music ended up in the Hines band. But people also have the erroneous impression that the music was new. It was not. The music evolved from what went before. It was the same basic music. The difference was in how you got from here to here to here ... naturally each age has got its own shit".

Then, Gillespie joined the big band of Hines' long-time collaborator Billy Eckstine, and it was as a member of Eckstine's band that he was reunited with Charlie Parker, a fellow member. In 1945, Gillespie left Eckstine's band because he wanted to play with a small combo. A "small combo" typically comprised no more than five musicians, playing the trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass and drums.

Rise of bebop

Gottlieb, William P. - The Library of Congress - Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947 (pd)
Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson and Timme Rosenkrantz in September 1947, New York

Bebop was known as the first modern jazz style. However, it was unpopular in the beginning and was not viewed as positively as swing music was. Bebop was seen as an outgrowth of swing, not a revolution. Swing introduced a diversity of new musicians in the bebop era like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Oscar Pettiford, and Gillespie. Through these musicians, a new vocabulary of musical phrases was created. With Parker, Gillespie jammed at famous jazz clubs like Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House. Parker's system also held methods of adding chords to existing chord progressions and implying additional chords within the improvised lines.

Gillespie compositions like "Groovin' High", "Woody 'n' You" and "Salt Peanuts" sounded radically different, harmonically and rhythmically, from the swing music popular at the time. "A Night in Tunisia", written in 1942, while Gillespie was playing with Earl Hines' band, is noted for having a feature that is common in today's music, a non-walking bassline. The song also displays Afro-Cuban rhythms. One of their first small-group performances together was only issued in 2005: a concert in New York's Town Hall on June 22, 1945. Gillespie taught many of the young musicians on 52nd Street, including Miles Davis and Max Roach, about the new style of jazz. After a lengthy gig at Billy Berg's club in Los Angeles, which left most of the audience ambivalent or hostile towards the new music, the band broke up. Unlike Parker, who was content to play in small groups and be an occasional featured soloist in big bands, Gillespie aimed to lead a big band himself; his first, unsuccessful, attempt to do this was in 1945.

D. Gillespie, J. Lewis, C. Payne, M. Davis, R. Brown
Gillespie with John Lewis, Cecil Payne, Miles Davis, and Ray Brown, between 1946 and 1948

After his work with Parker, Gillespie led other small combos (including ones with Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, Lalo Schifrin, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, James Moody, J.J. Johnson, and Yusef Lateef) and finally put together his first successful big band. Gillespie and his band tried to popularize bop and make Gillespie a symbol of the new music. He appeared frequently as a soloist with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. He also headlined the 1946 independently produced musical revue film Jivin' in Be-Bop.

In 1948, Gillespie was involved in a traffic accident when the bicycle he was riding was bumped by an automobile. He was slightly injured, and found that he could no longer hit the B-flat above high C. He won the case, but the jury awarded him only $1000, in view of his high earnings up to that point.

On January 6, 1953, he threw a party for his wife Lorraine at Snookie's, a club in Manhattan, where his trumpet's bell got bent upward in an accident, but he liked the sound so much he had a special trumpet made with a 45 degree raised bell, becoming his trademark.

In 1956 Gillespie organized a band to go on a State Department tour of the Middle East which was extremely well received internationally and earned him the nickname "the Ambassador of Jazz". During this time, he also continued to lead a big band that performed throughout the United States and featured musicians including Pee Wee Moore and others. This band recorded a live album at the 1957 Newport jazz festival that featured Mary Lou Williams as a guest artist on piano.

Afro-Cuban music

Miriam Makeba10
Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie in concert, Deauville (Normandy, France), July 20, 1991

In the late 1940s, Gillespie was also involved in the movement called Afro-Cuban music, bringing Afro-Latin American music and elements to greater prominence in jazz and even pop music, particularly salsa. Afro-Cuban jazz is based on traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms. Gillespie was introduced to Chano Pozo in 1947 by Mario Bauza, a Latin jazz trumpet player. Chano Pozo became Gillespie's conga drummer for his band. Gillespie also worked with Mario Bauza in New York jazz clubs on 52nd Street and several famous dance clubs such as Palladium and the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They played together in the Chick Webb band and Cab Calloway's band, where Gillespie and Bauza became lifelong friends. Gillespie helped develop and mature the Afro-Cuban jazz style.

Afro-Cuban jazz was considered bebop-oriented, and some musicians classified it as a modern style. Afro-Cuban jazz was successful because it never decreased in popularity and it always attracted people to dance to its unique rhythms. Gillespie's most famous contributions to Afro-Cuban music are the compositions "Manteca" and "Tin Tin Deo" (both co-written with Chano Pozo); he was responsible for commissioning George Russell's "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop", which featured Pozo. In 1977, Gillespie discovered Arturo Sandoval while researching music during a tour of Cuba.

Later years

Dizzy Gillespie playing horn 1955
Gillespie performing in 1955

His biographer Alyn Shipton quotes Don Waterhouse approvingly that Gillespie in the fifties "had begun to mellow into an amalgam of his entire jazz experience to form the basis of new classicism". Another opinion is that, unlike his contemporary Miles Davis, Gillespie essentially remained true to the bebop style for the rest of his career.

In 1960, he was inducted into Down Beat magazine's Jazz Hall of Fame.

During the 1964 United States presidential campaign the artist, with tongue in cheek, put himself forward as an independent write-in candidate. He promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed the Blues House, and he would have a cabinet composed of Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach (Secretary of Defense), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Travelling Ambassador) and Malcolm X (Attorney General). He said his running mate would be Phyllis Diller. Campaign buttons had been manufactured years before by Gillespie's booking agency "for publicity, as a gag", but now proceeds from them went to benefit the Congress of Racial Equality, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr.; in later years they became a collector's item.

In 1971, Gillespie announced he would run again but withdrew before the election for reasons connected to the Bahá'í Faith.

Dizzy Gillespie, a Bahá'í since 1968, was one of the most famous adherents of the Bahá'í Faith. It brought him to see himself as one of a series of musical messengers, part of a succession of trumpeters somewhat analogous to the series of prophets who bring God's message in religion. The universalist emphasis of his religion prodded him to see himself more as a global citizen and humanitarian, expanding on his already-growing interest in his African heritage. His increasing spirituality brought out a generosity in him, and what author Nat Hentoff called an inner strength, discipline and "soul force". Gillespie's conversion was most affected by Bill Sears' book Thief in the Night. Gillespie spoke about the Bahá'í Faith frequently on his trips abroad. He is honored with weekly jazz sessions at the New York Bahá'í Center in the memorial auditorium.

Gillespie published his autobiography, To Be or Not to Bop, in 1979.

Gillespie was a vocal fixture in many of John Hubley and Faith Hubley's animated films, such as The Hole, The Hat, and Voyage to Next.

In the 1980s, Gillespie led the United Nation Orchestra. For three years Flora Purim toured with the Orchestra and she credits Gillespie with evolving her understanding of jazz after being in the field for over two decades. David Sánchez also toured with the group and was also greatly influenced by Gillespie. Both artists later were nominated for Grammy awards. Gillespie also had a guest appearance on The Cosby Show as well as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

In 1982, Gillespie had a cameo appearance on Stevie Wonder's hit "Do I Do". Gillespie's tone gradually faded in the last years in life, and his performances often focused more on his proteges such as Arturo Sandoval and Jon Faddis; his good-humored comedic routines became more and more a part of his live act.

Dizzy StewartBW
Dizzy Gillespie with drummer Bill Stewart at 1984 Stanford Jazz Workshop

In 1988, Gillespie had worked with Canadian flautist and saxophonist Moe Koffman on their prestigious album Oo Pop a Da. He did fast scat vocals on the title track and a couple of the other tracks were played only on trumpet.

In 1989 Gillespie gave 300 performances in 27 countries, appeared in 100 U.S. cities in 31 states and the District of Columbia, headlined three television specials, performed with two symphonies, and recorded four albums. He was also crowned a traditional chief in Nigeria, received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; France's most prestigious cultural award. He was named Regent Professor by the University of California, and received his fourteenth honorary doctoral degree, this one from the Berklee College of Music.

In addition, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the same year. The next year, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts ceremonies celebrating the centennial of American jazz, Gillespie received the Kennedy Center Honors Award and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers Duke Ellington Award for 50 years of achievement as a composer, performer, and bandleader. In 1993 he received the Polar Music Prize in Sweden.

Sergio Caputo io e Dizzy
Dizzy Gillespie with the Italian singer Sergio Caputo

In 1991, Bay Area rising star Robert Stewart (saxophonist) performed for Dizzy at an award ceremony in his honor. Gillespie then asked Stewart to perform with his band a few months later.

On November 26, 1992, Carnegie Hall, following the Second Bahá'í World Congress, celebrated Gillespie's 75th birthday concert and his offering to the celebration of the centenary of the passing of Bahá'u'lláh. Gillespie was to appear at Carnegie Hall for the 33rd time. The line-up included: Jon Faddis, James Moody, Paquito D'Rivera, and the Mike Longo Trio with Ben Brown on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. But Gillespie didn't make it because he was in bed suffering from pancreatic cancer. "But the musicians played their real hearts out for him, no doubt suspecting that he would not play again. Each musician gave tribute to their friend, this great soul and innovator in the world of jazz." In 2002, Gillespie was posthumously inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to Afro-Cuban music.

Gillespie also starred in a film called The Winter in Lisbon released in 2004. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7057 Hollywood Boulevard.

He was honored on December 31, 2006 in A Jazz New Year's Eve: Freddy Cole & the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


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