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Music / Dizzy Gillespie

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The Ambassador of Jazz

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993) was an American jazz musician, singer, and bandleader. A trumpet virtuoso, he utilized complex rhythms and harmonies with an innovative tone and devastating speed never see before in jazz which made one of the seminal artists of the bebop movement in jazz.

Later on, Gillespie would form his own orchestra in the late 1940s, and it was considered to be one of the finest large jazz ensembles. Noted for complex arrangements and instrumental virtuosity, its repertoire was divided between the bop approach—from such arrangers as Tadd Dameron, John Lewis, George Russell, and Gillespie himself—and Afro-Cuban jazz (or, as Gillespie called it, "cubop")—in such numbers as "Manteca" and "Cubano Bop"; featuring conga drummer Chano Pozo. Gillespie formed other bands sporadically throughout the remainder of his career, but he played mostly in small groups from the 1950s onward until his death in 1993.

His late 1940s look of a beret, horn-rim glasses, and a goatee also became the unofficial “bebop uniform” and a precursor to the beatnik styles of the 1950s. Other trademarks included his custom-made made bent-bell trumpet and his enormous puffy cheeks that ballooned when playing. He was also a noted composer whose songbook is a list of bebop’s greatest hits; “Salt Peanuts,” “Woody ’n’ You,” “Con Alma,” “Groovin’ High,” “Blue ’n’ Boogie,” and “A Night in Tunisia” have all become became jazz standards.

Gillespie had a few scattered acting appearances, including voice acting work in award-winning animated shorts The Hole and Voyage to Next. He composed the soundtrack to two films, The Cool World (1963) and Winter in Lisbon (1990); the latter represented his final studio recordings.

Albums by Dizzy Gillespie with their own page:


  • The Ace: He's generally agreed to be one of these, as far as jazz trumpet is concerned: he was so technically brilliant that later players couldn't hope to top him and so had to find other ways of being distinctive. He also had immense knowledge of musical theory and was happy to teach it to fellow musicians. Charlie Parker could read and write music, but he could seldom be bothered to do so. Whenever he came up with a new tune, he'd stand outside Dizzy's apartment and play it through the mail slot in the door, knowing that Dizzy would be compelled to write it down.
  • Draft Dodging: When called up by his local draft board during World War II, Gillespie became quite vocal about his resentment of how African-Americans were being treated. He said that if he were sent into combat, he might "create a case of mistaken identity" and end up shooting his fellow soldiers instead. The board classified him as 4-F (not acceptable for military service).
  • Eccentric Artist: Gillespie earned his nickname for his unpredictable and comical behavior. When Gillespie was in the Frankie Fairfax band in Philadelphia he carried his new trumpet in a paper bag, an act that inspired fellow musicians like Bill Doggett to call him "Dizzy".
  • Friendly Rivalry: With Charlie Parker. They would clash in their solos even in live performances as a part of competition with each other.
    • He also developed one with Louis Armstrong, after becoming frustrated with what he regarded as Armstrong's Uncle Tom-like onstage behaviour. He released a record parodying Armstrong, who responded by releasing a record playfully mocking the beboppers. They eventually appeared together in a TV special, singing and playing "Umbrella Man", and Armstrong signified his delight with Gillespie's solo by giving him a joyful high-five. Gillespie subsequently conceded that he'd failed to appreciate that Armstrong's eternally cheerful demeanour was his way of not letting things get him down.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Had this as a young man. He would get angry and frustrated whenever he was crossed, or felt threatened by a rival, culminating when he was accused by his boss Cab Calloway of throwing a spitball onstage. The resulting altercation climaxed with Gillespie stabbing Calloway in the leg with a knife, and getting fired. Marrying his wife Lorraine made him considerably more mellow, which he tended to be for the rest of his life.
  • Iconic Item: His bent-bell trumpet, originally the result of accidental damage caused by dancers falling onto the instrument while it was on a trumpet stand on stage during a show in 1953. The constriction caused by the bending altered the tone of the instrument; Gillespie liked the result and had his trumpets custom-built that way for the rest of his life.
  • Jazz: One of the genre's principal innovators on the trumpet and composer of several standards within the genre.
  • Scatting: He did it all over the place and could switch effortlessly between scat-singing, ordinary lyrics, and playing trumpet.