Dizzy Gillespie

?Dizzy Gillespie

There is not one person around who knows jazz music that did not hear the name Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy Gillespie was a composer, singer, jazz trumpet player and bandleader. He along with Charlie Parker was the creator of modern jazz music and bebop. Dizzy also started Afro-Cuban jazz. He had the gift of making new harmonies that were layered and complex. At the time, it was not done in jazz before. He was most remembered for the trumpet he played that was bent. It was accidentally ruined when he was on a job in 1953. Surprisingly, Dizzy liked it because of the way it changed the tone of the instrument.

Dizzy was born John Birks on October 21, 1917 in South Carolina. He was the youngest in the family of nine children. His father was a horrible man who beat his children all the time, and died when dizzy was 10 years old. He taught himself how to play trumpet when he was twelve years old. He won a scholarship to Laurinburg Institute but, dropped out of school and went to Philadelphia to pursue music full-time. He played with Frankie Fairfax and recorded for the very first time in 1937. He then was a part of Cab Calloway’s band, but was criticized for his solos, calling them “Chinese music”. He was thrown out because Cab said that he sent a spitball at him, and Dizzy, angrily stabbed him in the leg with a knife.

Dizzy was a part of Duke Ellington’s, Woody Herman and many other bands. It was with Billy Eckstine’s band where his unique playing fit better than anywhere else. He met again with Charlie Parker. Together they played famous clubs such as Monroe’s Uptown House, and Minton’s Playhouse. This is where jazz music progressed again and bebop was created. In the beginning a lot of people didn’t like bebop. They were used to the old jazz music, and thought the new sound of bebop was a threat and were afraid of it. Dizzy’s style had an effect on trumpeters and the younger musicians that he was able to mentor. Examples of bebop music are “Groovin’ High”, “Salt Peanuts” and “A Night In Tunisia”. Musicians that he taught bebop to were Miles Davis and Max Roach.

Eventually, the band departed, as the audience grew wary of the new jazz music. Dizzy wanted to go big, and tried to create his own big band in 1945 but was not successful with it. He started other small groups and finally put a big band together that was a success. He soloed many times with Jazz at the Philharmonic.

Dizzy proved himself overseas in France when he began his third big band, and did several concerts and albums.
During the 1940’s Dizzy was composing Afro-Cuban music. Afro-Cuban music is a combination of Latin and African music, pop and salsa. The work that is the most well known are “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca”. Dizzy was responsible for finding musician Arturo Sandoval while he was on a tour in Cuba researching music.

Dizzy continued to reach people with his music even on television and film. He was on Sesame Street and The Cosby Show. He died in 1993 from Pancreatic Cancer, he was 75 years old. He had two funerals, one was for friends and family and the other funeral was for the public in Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Dizzy Gillespie was a special innovator in jazz and is continually remembered at the New York Bahai Center.


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