Dizzy Gillespie, father of be-bop with his signature bent trumpet, left a legend so wide that it's still bumping elbows with today's best jazz musicians and techniques. Composing, leading various bands, and pushing the envelope in new techniques for almost 60 years, Gillespie created a sound that this NY Times article classified as "meteoric, full of virtuosic invention and deadly serious." However, Gillespie was known also as an expert entertainer, with his witty side remarks and habit of poking fun at the audience.
Gillespie was born in 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina as John Birks Gillespie. He started playing the trumpet at 14. After moving with his family to Philadelphia at age 16, Gillespie started working with jazz musicians. He even got fired for not knowing how to read music well enough, and with Cab Calloway's band, with whom he got fired after getting in a fight on stage with Calloway. However, while touring with the Calloway band, he met Charlie Parker, with whom he created be-bop. As the article highlights, "Gillespie was blunt about his relationship with Mr. Parker, calling him 'the other side of my heartbeat,' and freely giving him credit for some of the rhythmic innovations of be-bop."
Finally, 1945 brought his sharp-edged sound to the public's ear. Recording under his own name and with Parker, Gillespie created music known for its "tight ensemble passages, precisely articulated rhythms and dissonance" (NY Times). He also formed his first big band that year, and underwent other transformations/reformations to his bands.
During the late 1940s Gillespie became increasingly interested in Afro-Cuban jazz. Together with Chano Pozo, he wrote the album Manteca, and blew the top off of jazz and Latin worlds.
In 1953, someone fell on Gillespie's trumpet, bending the horn. After deciding he liked the sound more, he kept it that way, thus tagging his trademark, having trumpet specially made that way from then on.
Gillespie, like most jazz musicians morphed through many bands, both small and big, and even started his own record label, which eventually went under. He recorded with a plethora of musicians, including Thelonius Monk, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Stan Getz and many more. He won a Grammy both in 1975 and 1980, and toured frequently during the 60s and 70s.
His presence, tumultuous, humorous, and irrevocably talented, permeates the jazz culture today, and I'm looking forward to seeing Danilo Perez: 21st Century Dizzy in April as his all star group reincarnates this living legacy.
- Melissa Wray,