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Artist Profiles

Dizzy Gillespie: Bebop Birthday

By Published: November 28, 2008
Trumpeter Jimmy Owens tells one story of Dizzy's generosity. "A bunch of musicians had chipped in to buy a holograph display to be used at the old Fat Tuesday at one of Dizzy's appearances there. The holograph wound up staying at the club for all time. Dizzy just donated it to them. He was always giving things away." Owens has played at birthday celebrations for Dizzy in New Jersey for the last two years. He went on to say that, because Dizzy was a long time resident of Englewood, New Jersey, the Englewood Hospital has started a program through the Jazz Foundation of America which provides medical care to musicians who otherwise would go without treatment. "The program is in honor of Dizzy and his generosity of spirit."

Trombonist Slide Hampton worked frequently with Dizzy from 1963 until 1990 and is musical director of the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars, in both its small group and big band configurations. To Hampton, Dizzy was "a teacher for all us, helping us develop a style of music that made us practice more. You had to practice more in order to be able to play it. Bebop performances consist of virtuoso technique as well as melodic ideas." Hampton also mentioned the fact that Dizzy maintained strong beliefs about humanity, which led him to embrace the Baha'i faith (which emphasizes the unity of all the major religions and of all human beings). Hampton added, "Dizzy felt that this country can never be as great as when we stop fighting each other and come together."

Dizzy impacted the lives of many musicians, directly and indirectly. His Cuban tours led him to discover both Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D'Rivera. It was while Dizzy was on European tour leading the United Nations Orchestra that the word went out the Cubans were coming to take Sandoval back to Cuba. Dizzy arranged to get Sandoval and his family back to New York City where Sandoval filed for political asylum and became a US citizen. He was influential in advancing D'Rivera's career as well.

Trumpeter Jon Faddis, Dizzy's protege, remarked, "Dizzy was a unique individual and musician. He just had a different way of looking at things—the music, the chords and that goes for politics as well. It was a different perspective," and went on to say, "He was my man and I love him." Faddis will be in Europe on Dizzy's birthday but will be doing a birthday tribute in Zagreb, Croatia. "They love him there."

Dizzy died of pancreatic cancer Janurary 6th, 1993 at age 75. James Moody was among those with him when he died. Mike Longo delivered the eulogy at the funeral. Whatever words Longo might have said, the most exquisite statement of his feelings for Gillespie are done musically on a recording made several years after Gillespie's death. Entitled I Miss You John, it features Moody and Owens among others.

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was a virtuoso musician, performer and bandleader whose music impacted and still influences the world of jazz. He was a man whose generous spirit reached out to humanity both through his music and through his deeds. He is known and loved all over the world. He may have left the planet, but he is still in the universe and, therefore, his spirit is still with us. Cheers, Dizzy!

Recommended Listening:

Dizzy Gillespie—The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (RCA Victor—Bluebird, 1937-49)

Dizzy Gillespie—Dee Gee Days: The Savoy Sessions (School Days/The Champ) (Savoy Jazz, 1951-52)

The Quintet (Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie/Bud Powell/Max Roach/Charles Mingus)—Jazz at Massey Hall (The Greatest Concert Ever) (Debut, 1953)

Dizzy Gillespie—The Verve/Philips Small Group Sessions (Verve/Philips—Mosaic, 1954-63)

Dizzy Gillespie—Dizzy's Big 4 (Pablo-OJC, 1974)

Dizzy Gillespie and United Nation Orchestra—Live at the Royal Festival Hall (Enja, 1989)

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