(1917 – 1993)
A dazzling trumpeter, a brilliant and whimsical musician, Dizzy Gillespie has gone down in jazz history as much for his musical qualities as for his extraordinary showmanship. In the aristocracy of the blue note, whose long lineage includes «King» Oliver, «Duke» Ellington or «Count» Basie, Dizzy occupies the role of the madman, the mischievous court jester who does not hesitate to overthrow the established order with his irreverence.
Born in South Carolina, John Birks Gillespie (1917-1993) learns to play the trumpet with his father, a bricklayer by day and amateur bandleader by night. When his father dies in 1927, the young boy pursues his studies at all costs, first as a self-taught student, then in a music school for two years. Barely a teenager, he is already on the road, in search of professional status as a musician. By the end of the 1930s, his reputation makes the rounds of the clubs and he’s hired for important gigs, playing in the orchestras of Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine…
With his stage pranks, his cheeks puffed up like balloons when he blows his trumpet, he is quite naturally nicknamed by his peers .... Dizzy: someone whose silliness makes your head spin like a vertigo. Rarely in the history of jazz has a nickname seemed so appropriate. For musical vertigo becomes his signature in the early 1940s, when he takes part in the legendary jam sessions at the Minton's Playhouse in New York. There, his unbridled trumpet competes with Charlie Parker's alto saxophone until the very end of the night. Angular riffs, feverish intensity, frenzied tempi: the two musicians shatter the harmonic field of jazz, inventing a new language with dazzling creativity. Bebop was born.
Several of his compositions - A Night in Tunisia, Salt Peanuts, Woody' n' You... - instantly become jazz standards. A major aesthetic shift takes place at the end of the 1940s when Dizzy leads his own big band, which combines the unrestrained virtuosity of bebop with the irresistible poly-rhythmic drive of Afro-Cuban jazz, using congas and other Latin American percussion instruments to great effect. This is the era of "Cubop", as Dizzy called it. He also introduces his famous "look" - beret, goatee, scaled glasses - which influenced a whole generation of artists, right up to the beatniks. And he swaps his straight trumpet for an instrument with a 45-degree bent bell. When the big bands cease to be popular, the trumpeter switches to smaller settings, where he takes under his protective wing a young John Coltrane, then the pianist Lalo Schifrin, future composer of the soundtrack of the film Dirty Harry, who becomes his regular arranger.
Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba, Im Arsenal Filmverleih
Pablo Jazz Festival, Ella & Basie
Dizzy Gillespie at the Smithsonian Institute, Nikon
Ticket Corner, Dizzy Gillespie Quintet
Miriam Makeba, Dizzy Gillespie, SWF Jazz Session
Dizzy at 80, Jazz at Lincoln Center