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Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie

Joel Roberts By

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William L. Maggin
Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie
Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-688-17088-9
2005

With the exception of Louis Armstrong, there's probably been no major artist in jazz as beloved as Dizzy Gillespie. A brilliant musician and innovator who helped launch two of the music's key movements - bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz -Gillespie was also one of the great showmen in jazz and one of its true global ambassadors.

He's also a rarity among the legends of his era in that he lived what appears to have been a remarkably happy life free of the usual jazz clichés - he wasn't a junkie (though he drank and smoked plenty of marijuana), he had a long marriage (though he frequently cheated on wife Lorraine) and he didn't die obscure and penniless (he earned at least $1 million a year at the end of his life and resided comfortably in suburban New Jersey). He also brought a cheeky sense of humor (often getting him into trouble in his youth) to an art form that often takes itself far too seriously.

Donald Maggin's sympathetic new biography traces Dizzy's extraordinary journey from a boyhood in deeply racist '20s South Carolina through apprenticeships in the big bands of Cab Calloway, Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine to his emergence in the late '30s and early '40s as one of the primary creators (along with Bird, Monk, Kenny Clarke and Charlie Christian) of the then-revolutionary bebop sound. Gillespie didn't stop there, of course, leading a series of important big bands and small groups, while becoming one of the most recognizable faces in jazz over the next 50 years.

Maggin, a writer/businessman/concert promoter and former presidential adviser who knew Gillespie over many years, brings both a scholar's knowledge and a fan's enthusiasm to this nearly definitive biography of one of jazz' truly towering figures. It's a life worth celebrating and a book worth reading.


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