Dizzy Gillespie

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Dizzy Gillespie

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John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (/ɡˈlɛspi/; October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer.[1]

AllMusic's Scott Yanow wrote, "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's emergence in the 1970s that Dizzy's style was successfully recreated [...] Arguably Gillespie is remembered, by both critics and fans alike, as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time."[2]

Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and improviser, building on the virtuoso style of Roy Eldridge[3] but adding layers of harmonic complexity previously unheard in jazz. His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, pouched cheeks and his light-hearted personality were essential in popularizing bebop.[citation needed]

In the 1940s Gillespie, with Charlie Parker, became a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz.[4] He taught and influenced many other musicians, including trumpeters Miles Davis, Jon Faddis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Arturo Sandoval, Lee Morgan,[5] Chuck Mangione,[6] and balladeer Johnny Hartman.[7]

Biography

Early life and career

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

Gillespie stayed with Teddy Hill's band for a year, then left and free-lanced with numerous other bands.[5] 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).

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 Dizzy, because he didn't view Dizzy 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 Dizzy. In order to clear his name, Dizzy 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 Dizzy. A few days later, Dizzy tried to apologize to Calloway, but he was dismissed.[11]

During his time in Calloway's band, Gillespie started writing big band music for bandleaders like Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey.[5] 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 avoided serving in World War II. In 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.[12] 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.[13]

 

Gillespie said of the Hines band, "People 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".[14]

Then, Gillespie joined Billy Eckstine's (Hines' long-time collaborator) big band and it was as a member of Eckstine's band that he was reunited with Charlie Parker, a fellow member of Hines' band. 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.