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Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie's contributions to jazz were huge. One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time (some would say the best), Gillespie was such a complex player that his contemporaries ended up copying Miles Davis and Fats Navarro instead, and it was not until Jon Faddis' emergence in the 1970s that Dizzy's style was successfully recreated. Somehow, Gillespie could make any "wrong" note fit, and harmonically he was ahead of everyone in the 1940s, including Charlie Parker. Unlike Bird, Dizzy was an enthusiastic teacher who wrote down his musical innovations and was eager to explain them to the next generation, thereby insuring that bebop would eventually become the foundation of jazz.

Dizzy Gillespie was also one of the key founders of Afro-Cuban (or Latin) jazz, adding Chano Pozo's conga to his orchestra in 1947, and utilizing complex poly-rhythms early on. The leader of two of the finest big bands in jazz history, Gillespie differed from many in the bop generation by being a masterful showman who could make his music seem both accessible and fun to the audience. With his puffed-out cheeks, bent trumpet (which occurred by accident in the early '50s when a dancer tripped over his horn), and quick wit, Dizzy was a colorful figure to watch. A natural comedian, Gillespie was also a superb scat singer and occasionally played Latin percussion for the fun of it, but it was his trumpet playing and leadership abilities that made him into a jazz giant.

The youngest of nine children, John Birks Gillespie taught himself trombone and then switched to trumpet when he was 12. He grew up in poverty, won a scholarship to an agricultural school (Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina), and then in 1935 dropped out of school to look for work as a musician. Inspired and initially greatly influenced by Roy Eldridge, Gillespie (who soon gained the nickname of "Dizzy") joined Frankie Fairfax's band in Philadelphia. In 1937, he became a member of Teddy Hill's orchestra in a spot formerly filled by Eldridge. Dizzy made his recording debut on Hill's rendition of "King Porter Stomp" and during his short period with the band toured Europe. After freelancing for a year, Gillespie joined Cab Calloway's orchestra (1939-1941), recording frequently with the popular bandleader and taking many short solos that trace his development; "Pickin' the Cabbage" finds Dizzy starting to emerge from Eldridge's shadow. However, Calloway did not care for Gillespie's constant chance-taking, calling his solos "Chinese music." After an incident in 1941 when a spitball was mischievously thrown at Calloway (he accused Gillespie but the culprit was actually Jonah Jones), Dizzy was fired.

By then, Gillespie had already met Charlie Parker, who confirmed the validity of his musical search. During 1941-1943, Dizzy passed through many bands including those led by Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Fess Williams, Les Hite, Claude Hopkins, Lucky Millinder (with whom he recorded in 1942), and even Duke Ellington (for four weeks). Gillespie also contributed several advanced arrangements to such bands as Benny Carter, Jimmy Dorsey, and Woody Herman; the latter advised him to give up his trumpet playing and stick to full-time arranging.

Dizzy ignored the advice, jammed at Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House where he tried out his new ideas, and in late 1942 joined Earl Hines' big band. Charlie Parker was hired on tenor and the sadly unrecorded orchestra was the first orchestra to explore early bebop. By then, Gillespie had his style together and he wrote his most famous composition "A Night in Tunisia." When Hines' singer Billy Eckstine went on his own and formed a new bop big band, Diz and Bird (along with Sarah Vaughan) were among the members. Gillespie stayed long enough to record a few numbers with Eckstine in 1944 (most noticeably "Opus X" and "Blowing the Blues Away"). That year he also participated in a pair of Coleman Hawkins-led sessions that are often thought of as the first full-fledged bebop dates, highlighted by Dizzy's composition "Woody'n You."

1945 was the breakthrough year. Dizzy Gillespie, who had led earlier bands on 52nd Street, finally teamed up with Charlie Parker on records. Their recordings of such numbers as "Salt Peanuts," "'Shaw Nuff," "Groovin' High," and "Hot House" confused swing fans who had never heard the advanced music as it was evolving; and Dizzy's rendition of "I Can't Get Started" completely reworked the former Bunny Berigan hit. It would take two years for the often frantic but ultimately logical new style to start catching on as the mainstream of jazz. Gillespie led an unsuccessful big band in 1945 (a Southern tour finished it), and late in the year he traveled with Parker to the West Coast to play a lengthy gig at Billy Berg's club in L.A. Unfortunately, the audiences were not enthusiastic (other than local musicians) and Dizzy (without Parker) soon returned to New York.

The following year, Dizzy Gillespie put together a successful and influential orchestra which survived for nearly four memorable years. "Manteca" became a standard, the exciting "Things to Come" was futuristic, and "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" featured Chano Pozo. With such sidemen as the future original members of the Modern Jazz Quartet (Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Ray Brown, and Kenny Clarke), James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Yusef Lateef, and even a young John Coltrane, Gillespie's big band was a breeding ground for the new music. Dizzy's beret, goatee, and "bop glasses" helped make him a symbol of the music and its most popular figure. During 1948-1949, nearly every former swing band was trying to play bop, and for a brief period the major record companies tried very hard to turn the music into a fad.

By 1950, the fad had ended and Gillespie was forced, due to economic pressures, to break up his groundbreaking orchestra. He had occasional (and always exciting) reunions with Charlie Parker (including a fabled Massey Hall concert in 1953) up until Bird's death in 1955, toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic (where he had opportunities to "battle" the combative Roy Eldridge), headed all-star recording sessions (using Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Stitt on some dates), and led combos that for a time in 1951 also featured Coltrane and Milt Jackson. In 1956, Gillespie was authorized to form a big band and play a tour overseas sponsored by the State Department. It was so successful that more traveling followed, including extensive tours to the Near East, Europe, and South America, and the band survived up to 1958. Among the young sidemen were Lee Morgan, Joe Gordon, Melba Liston, Al Grey, Billy Mitchell, Benny Golson, Ernie Henry, and Wynton Kelly; Quincy Jones (along with Golson and Liston) contributed some of the arrangements. After the orchestra broke up, Gillespie went back to leading small groups, featuring such sidemen in the 1960s as Junior Mance, Leo Wright, Lalo Schifrin, James Moody, and Kenny Barron. He retained his popularity, occasionally headed specially assembled big bands, and was a fixture at jazz festivals. In the early '70s, Gillespie toured with the Giants of Jazz and around that time his trumpet playing began to fade, a gradual decline that would make most of his '80s work quite erratic. However, Dizzy remained a world traveler, an inspiration and teacher to younger players, and during his last couple of years he was the leader of the United Nation Orchestra (featuring Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval). He was active up until early 1992.

Dizzy Gillespie's career was very well documented from 1945 on, particularly on Musicraft, Dial, and RCA in the 1940s; Verve in the 1950s; Philips and Limelight in the 1960s; and Pablo in later years. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: The Trumpet Summit Meets The Oscar Peterson Big Four


can anyone tell me why the description of dizzy Gillespie includes the phrases, heavy use of sampling and electronica roots?
This is pleasant enough, but Dizzy would probably roll over in his grave at this album being called The Best of Dizzy Gillespie. It's Dizzy in the 1970s trying to make a living at a time when jazz musicians couldn't get a gig. It's commercial music, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not really very creative or interesting. FAR from Dizzy at his best. (The fact is, he's not even playing that well here; no doubt his heart wasn't in it.)
Is this Dizzy Gillespie? Love it !!
Great music! In later years, my friend Rodney Jones played guitar for Dizzy. Check out Rodney! He has some chops!!
Where are these artist today? Covered by commercialis m
Smoking out listening too some Dizzle my Nizzle....
*ensuring, not insuring
Funky! I like it!
Thanks for contacting me - thanks for reminding me about what's great
To bop or be bop that Dizzy
I like the picture
Leave a comment…
Saw Dizzie perform live at NCCU as student!!!
Definitely Dizzy, one of the great jazz trumpet players and innovative trumpet players. Also, his love for his wife and his self-commitm e n t to stay away from the pitfalls of alchol and drugs is worth mentioning.
Say the word Bee-Bop, and only one name should come to mind -- Dizzy! Dizz has had such a great influence on music and musicians - Arturo Sandoval and Check Mangione readily come to mind. Dizzy is about the music and imparting the joy he finds in making it with others...tha t people, is a gift! And, Dizzy is a gift and a true American treasure!
if I had to be marooned on a desert Isle with Dizzy or Miles, I'd pick Dizzy ten to one.
No Biography. Fix this!
Where is his biography? One of the most important figures in jazz, and his biography comes up blank everytime I look for it on my phone. Disappointin g Pandora!
Nice recognition of Gillespie's influence on younger musicians as a teacher, and music theorist.
what? no bio?
Looks like you've got Oscar Peterson's Bio under Dizzy Gillespies -- Please fix! Thx
Seeing Diz in a very small club in D.C. in the late 60's was one of my 2 coolest experiences (the other Brubeck's Q-tet in the dressing rm);took my request and played Night in Tunisia like he'd written it for me. So Cool!
too many notes? And which would you suggest he remove?
You can tell that Dizzy's roots are in the South. He was born and bred in Cheraw, SC a great Southern town.
I met Dizzy once backstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was fresh out of high school at the time. I asked him what recordings that he made with Chan Pozo would he would suggest I listen to - he looked at me like I had a hole in the middle of my head. I never felt so un-cool or less hip in my life.
Dizzy makes me want to play my trumpet.
I LOVE Dizzy!!! :)
dizzy? straight up and solid! gets my vote on or off...lwy
too fast
Happy Birthday Dizzy.
I love Diz like I love my own mother... But, Scott, ahead of Charlie Parker harmonically in the 40's? Can you back that up? Have you broken down their solos and analyzed them? Critics say the damndest things and most of the time they're just making s**t up.
Unlike Diz, every jazz musician I know (including guitarists and keyboardists ) cut his teeth studying Charlie Parker solos, NOT Dizzy Gillespie solos. So, who's the greater influence? NO MUSICIAN I KNOW STUDIES DIZ SOLOS(cept trmpt plyrs)
Diz was one of the greatest ambassador's of jazz and latin music; he also brought many great and unlikely musicians together, like Chano Pozo, Al McKibbon, Lee Morgan, etc. He certainly left the world of jazz in a much better place as a result of his talents and ingenuity.
There was only one Dizzy and I was so honored to have a chance to sing with Diz at the Tangiers in Akron,Ohio years ago. At that time James Moody was in the band along with drummer "Candy" Otis Finch Jr. Love this site!
wow - so cool...a great 70s flashback from Diz!
Wow! Thats's awesome! This relaxes my brain waves! Nothin' like it!
A True Genius,that I've had the pleasure,and privilege in this lifetime to be in his company,and talk,and laugh with.
Did anyone else find the "similar artists" list kinda strange? Was there ever ANY one similar to Diz? Sure, all of these artists were HUGE in their own rights and ways, and sure they all could be classified as "bop" but "similar"? I don't think so. Miles is to Diz as Apples are to light bulbs. But thats just me....
Diz - Wow! BF.
Wow - what a lot of albums! I hope he got appropriatel y compensated for all his hard work and devotion to his craft - so many are not and especially 'back in the day'.
Thanks for everything Diz.
Fortunately I got to see him several times in some close and intimate venues. He was a fantastic entertainer as well as a great musician! I miss him.
allways one of the greats
A real contributor ... played with and argued with the giants ..Ellington Davis .Coleman Hawkins ... oragnized a great group the included the Be - Bop group , notably , Charlie Parker , and like Miles Davis ,"moved" jazz well into the 60's before returning to the standard jazz form....I recommend printing a copy of his bio---- it covers the modern history of the development of jazz music..
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