"I'M DIZ THE WHIZ"
--Dizzy's line in the Cab Calloway Classic song: I'm a Cat that's in the Know
C. Calloway Brooks on Dizzy Gillespie:
Used to talk on the phone with him all the time he was always calling granddad. Especially around Christmas. He got a whole lot out of being with my granddad. Chu Berry used to blow him and everybody else away on a regular basis. Dizzy says in his autobiography that everything in his later music comes out of his Calloway years. Especially his very first chart ever recorded, "Pickin' the Cabbage" recorded with the Granddad's band in 1940. Dizzy growth through the band proves the Granddad's band was a great cradle of Bebop, albeit with a thin mattress. --CB
Dizzy was born John Birks Gillespie in
Cheraw, South Carolina in 1917 to a family of ten. His father, a local
bandleader, encouraged Gillespie's musical progress and made instruments
available to the child early on. At four years old, John was already playing
the piano. He then taught himself to play the trombone but switched to the
trumpet before the age of twelve. He received a music scholarship to the small
agricultural school, the
Institute, Laurinburg, North Carolina.
After staying with Eckstine a while and
recording such notable hits as "Opus X" and "Blowin' The Blues Away", Dizzy
again joined up with Coleman Hawkins for several bebop sessions. These early
years of bebop were hard on Dizzy because the style was still not completely
accepted by mainstream jazz. He led his own band on the ill-fated "Hepsations
of 1945" southern tour and went to the West Coast with Parker, only to return to
New York early after discouraging turnouts for his gigs.
Finally, as bebop became more accepted, Dizzy rose to prominence as one of its stars. Bebop proponany and producer Leonard Feather held sessions to assemble the leaders of the 52nd Street scene, Dizzy's band being a frontrunner. The year had seen the creation of a successful orchestra, drawing on such talent as vibist Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown, pianist Al Haig, tenor saxophonist Don Byas, drummer J.C. Heard, and guitarist Bill De Arango. The resulting music was sensational: "52nd Street Theme," named this by Feather for its representation of the scene, featured Byas and Gillespie playing frenzied choruses based on other pieces and a cycle of fifths..."Night in Tunisia"also featured Dizzy's double-time runs, bringing boundless energy to the Gillespie classic..."Anthropology" even featured lines from "We're In The Money," serving as a reminder of what freedom the music allowed. After these orchestrations, Dizzy Gillespie stood atop what was a powerful jazz movement, finally taking its place as the frontrunning jazz style.
Testament to the power of the music was
the ease with which the orchestra moved past obstacles. Time and Life
both ran critical articles, but Dizzy's band didn't even stumble. In fact, it
was still charting the path for bebop jazz, adding to its lineup tenor
saxophonist James Moody, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, and pianist John
Lewis. Fuelled by his rising popularity, Dizzy became increasingly interested
Afro-Cuban music and began to experiment in the area. He turned to his old
friend, Mario Bauza, who in turn introduced him to Chano Pozo. The union of the
two musicians bore "Cubana Be," a duet that constitutes the first half of "Cubana
Be/Cubana Bop," Dizzy's collaboration with George Russell. He would later work
closely with Arturo Sandoval, who he fondly called "my first son."
Dizzy died of pancreatic cancer in Englewood, New Jersey with his wife Lorraine in 1993. He is survived by his jazz legacy. He is, after all, in Ira Gitler's words, a jazz immortal.
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