Harlem Renaissance photographer Carl Van Vechten captured Gillespie’s bent horn completely in 1955.

Born in 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina, John Birks Gillespie was the youngest of 9 youngsters born to Lottie and James Gillespie. His dad was an area bandleader, so younger John had entry to a lot of devices— amongst them the trombone and the trumpet. Earlier than his household left South Carolina in 1935, he spent two years on the Laurinburg Institutean African American prep faculty—on a music scholarship.

The Nationwide Endowment for the Arts “Jazz Masters” web site continues Gillespie’s story.

Gillespie’s earliest skilled jobs had been with the Frankie Fairfax band, the place he reportedly picked up the nickname Dizzy due to his outlandish antics. His earliest affect was Roy Eldridge, whom he later changed in Teddy Hill’s band. From 1939-41, Gillespie was one of many principal soloists in Cab Calloway’s band, till he was dismissed for a infamous bandstand prank. Whereas with Calloway he met the Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza, from whom he gained a terrific curiosity in Afro-Cuban rhythms. Right now he additionally befriended Charlie Parker, with whom he would start to develop a few of the concepts behind bebop whereas sitting in at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem.

From 1941-43, Gillespie freelanced with a lot of large bands, together with that of Earl “Fatha” Hines. Hines’ band contained a number of musicians Gillespie would work together with within the improvement of bebop, resembling singer Billy Eckstine, who shaped his personal band that includes Gillespie on trumpet in 1944.

The 12 months 1945 was essential for each bebop and Gillespie. He recorded with Parker a lot of his small ensemble hits, resembling “Salt Peanuts,” and shaped his personal bebop large band. Regardless of financial woes, he was in a position to hold this band collectively for 4 years. His trumpet taking part in was at a peak, with rapid-fire assaults of notes and an incredible harmonic vary. A lot of future greats carried out with Gillespie’s large band, together with saxophonists Gene Ammons, Yusef Lateef, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, and John Coltrane. The rhythm part of John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, and Ray Brown turned the unique Fashionable Jazz Quartet.

Right here’s the earliest recording of “Salt Peanuts,” adopted by a Storyville Data efficiency clip, filmed a 12 months or so after the tune’s launch.

Writing for uDiscover Music, Morgan Enos factors out the serendipity of Gillespie pairing up with Charlie Parker.

Gillespie and Chicken had swum in comparable circles earlier than, with the pair taking part in collectively in Hines’ large band. However that 12 months, they banded collectively in earnest, recording an irresistible single with pianist Al Haig, bassist Curly Russell, and drummer Sidney Catlett.

“I consider that the historical past of jazz will bear in mind as an important date the purpose in Could 1945 when 5 black musicians recorded ‘Scorching Home’ and ‘Salt Peanuts,’” the French critic André Hodier declared in 1999’s Groovin’ Excessive: The Lifetime of Dizzy Gillespie.

On the non-public entrance, in 1940 Gillespie married dancer Lorraine Willis. Mrs. Gillespie, who managed her husband’s enterprise affairs, died in 2004. Gillespie spoke about her in a 1978 New York Times story by critic Paul Wilner.

Mrs. Gillespie, who by no means permits her image to be taken and infrequently ventures to the golf equipment the place Dizzy performs, met her husband when she was dancing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater whereas his band was taking part in there.

“Her philosophy is like unto Paul Robeson’s,” Mr. Gillespie mentioned, “as a result of they could not get to Paul Robeson. They tried every little thing, all types of issues. And historical past has by no means recognized something like Western civilization. . . . We’re the quintessence of sophistication in attempting to deprave any person.”


“It is bizarre, such as you’re residing with an actual saint. As a result of, boy, the issues that folks did to her! If they’d occurred to me, I might have needed to kill ‘em, to boil ‘em in oil. “

The musician laughs merrily.

“However I’ve acquired two issues going for me that lots of people do not—a spouse who’s incorruptible and a faith that is incorruptible.” (Mr. Gillespie belongs to the Baha’i religion, a faith preaching the oneness of all worship.)

Images of Lorraine Gillespie are certainly arduous to seek out.

It fascinates me what number of early Black movies featured jazz large bands; I’m comfortable that fairly just a few of them are actually posted to YouTube. They had been the music movies of their time. This one, that includes Gillespie and his band, was made the 12 months I used to be born.

Whereas Gillespie shook the musical world, he was additionally recognized for his humorous persona, as you possibly can see on this amusing 1956 quick movie, Date With Dizzy.

Given his standing, impression, and longevity, Gillespie’s life has been nicely documented, each in books, like Groovin’ High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie by Alyn Shipton, and on movie. Please do put aside an hour to observe To Bop or Not to Be: A Jazz Life. 

Music critic Marc Myers notes that the Norwegian documentary ”featured not a phrase of voiceover narration,” resulting in “a stunning movie with out guardrails that showcases the exceptionalism of Gillespie—his musicianship, his humor, and his modernist invention referred to as bebop.”

In all probability the most-covered tune composed by Gillespie is now often called “A Night time in Tunisia,” a 1942 tune that was initially referred to as “Interlude.” Matt Micucci touched on the song’s evolution in 2017 for JazzIz.

Billy Eckstine’s large band … featured, alongside Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie Parker, and vocalist Sarah Vaughan. Right now, the tune was launched as “Interlude,” with lyrics by Vaughan.

Although later vocal recordings would characteristic alternate lyrics by Jon Hendricks that extra appropriately match the “new” title “A Night time in Tunisia,” Gillespie would hold referring to his composition as “Interlude,” unaware of how, why or when the title change precisely occurred. 

Take pleasure in this early model.

Although “Sassy” Sarah Vaughan wrote the lyrics and recorded the primary vocal model, my favourite recording of “Tunisia” is that this stellar efficiency by Ella Fitzgerald. I’ve by no means discovered one other feminine vocalist who can match Girl Ella in seemingly easy readability. 

As a vocalese aficionado, I’ve written about Les Double Six in the past. In 1963, Gillespie connected with the French group.

A brand new jazz era, impressed by Gillespie, is now having fun with fame; amongst them is GRAMMY Award-winning Dominican pianist and composer Michel Camilo

Watch his fingers fly on his rendition of “Tunisia.”

We consider Gillespie as a trumpet participant, and composer, nonetheless, we should always not neglect the position that he and different main jazz artists performed on the planet of worldwide diplomacy in the course of the Chilly Struggle, as explored within the 2018 PBS documentary movie, The Jazz Ambassadors. 

PBS presents this textual content alongside its YouTube upload of the trailer. 

The Chilly Struggle and Civil Rights motion collide on this outstanding story of music, diplomacy and race. In 1955, because the Soviet Union’s pervasive propaganda concerning the U.S. and American racism unfold globally, African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. satisfied President Eisenhower that jazz was the easiest way to intervene within the Chilly Struggle cultural battle. For the following decade, America’s most influential jazz artists, together with Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, together with their racially-integrated bands, traveled the globe to carry out as cultural ambassadors. However the unrest again house pressured them to face a painful ethical dilemma: how might they promote the picture of a tolerant America overseas when the nation nonetheless practiced Jim Crow segregation and racial equality remained an unrealized dream? Advised by way of putting archival movie footage, photographs and radio clips, with iconic performances all through, the documentary reveals how the U.S. State Division unwittingly gave the burgeoning Civil Rights motion a serious voice on the world stage simply when it wanted one most. Leslie Odom, Jr., narrates.

Metro Focus host Jenna Flanagan mentioned the politics of the movie with director Hugo Berkeley.


In April of 2020, I pointed out that Gillespie was a key determine within the marriage between Cuban rhythms and the Black American large band sound. Reside on the Royal Pageant Corridor, a outstanding efficiency album Gillespie recorded in London together with his United Nations Orchestra, clearly demonstrates his incorporation of Latin rhythms. The album received the 1991 GRAMMY Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

Pop Issues reviewed it a decade later.

Reside on the Royal Pageant Corridor, London is a first-rate instance of Gillespie in his ingredient. Shaped in 1988, his United Nations Orchestra was an eclectic multi-cultural assortment of a few of the greatest and brightest jazz musicians the world needed to provide. Many, if not all, of the personnel had been already acknowledged masters within the style whereas a few of the youthful gamers have used the ensemble as a springboard to profitable solo careers.

Recorded on the finish of a whirlwind European tour — 18 live shows over the course of 21 days in 11 international locations — this present captures the essence of Gillespie’s appeal and talents. […]

Total, Reside on the Royal Pageant Corridor is indicative of Gillespie’s legacy, a set of surprising and unique tracks that characteristic not solely the bandleader, however his unbelievable collective of compatriots. Gillespie is gracious and beneficiant, faster to attract consideration to his fellow musicians than he’s to himself however even on the age of 72, Gillespie was nonetheless taking part in at a stage that younger lions even a 3rd of his age might solely dream of reaching.

Take pleasure in.

That certain acquired me up and shifting!

I might most likely replenish two tales with simply variations of Night time in Tunisia, so if I’ve omitted your favourite, you should definitely submit it within the feedback part under. I’ve a protracted listing of my very own to submit there, together with renditions by Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown, and Yusef Lateef. So bop on into the feedback and get Dizzy with me! 

I sit up for listening to your favorites.

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