The Jazz.com Blog
March 11, 2008 · 0 comments
The jazz world revolved around Dizzy Gillespie for more than a half century. When he told us to bop, we all bopped. And if he said to rebop, we rebopped. When he wore berets, berets suddenly became cool civilian attire. When he embraced Latin music, Afro-Cuban emerged as a widely accepted jazz style. Dizzy marched to the beat of a different drummer, and the rest of us? We marched to Dizzy’s beat.
This trumpeter was welcomed everywhere, from 52nd Street to Sesame Street. He jammed with the President at the White House, and even ran for the office in 1964. The chronically un-hip dared call him a joke candidate, but Gillespie was offering a bunch of ideas – from desegregation to funding programs with lotteries – that all the politicians later adopted. Ah, this was no surprise to jazz fans, who had learned twenty years earlier that Dizzy was always ahead of the times.
Forget the Oval Office. No one country was big enough for this global thinker. Gillespie had been one of the first jazz musicians to tour for the State Department, visiting the Middle East in 1956, and before long they were calling him the “Ambassador of Jazz.” Some years later, Dizzy founded the United Nations Orchestra and after that was probably scheming about the inter-galactic jam sessions of the future.
I remember Dizzy walking in the door at an otherwise forgettable public jam session, back in the 1984. I was playing piano in the rhythm section, when Gillespie sat down to listen. Everything suddenly shifted into high gear. Someone got the bright idea of playing “A Night in Tunisia” for the fellow who wrote it, and every horn player within a hundred mile radius must have found out, because they all showed up during the course of this one song.
How did they know Dizzy was there? This was in the days before text messaging and email, otherwise I would have suspected that the head of the musician’s union had broadcast the news to his whole buddy list. Clearly the word was out. Sax players and trumpeters I had never seen before were bullying their way on to the stage, everyone taking the most outlandish, grandstanding solo they could muster, before being pushed aside by the next combatant.
Dizzy hung out for a while, with a growing entourage swarming in his midst. Then he wandered off to his next engagement. Whoosh! All the cats packed up their horns and disappeared. Our jam session dwindled back down to its hearty crew of regulars. The crowd thinned out, and the applause after each solo was now as quiet as the fluttering of a moth's wings. But I got a glimpse that day of what it was like to be John Birks Gillespie.
I learned that, if you’re Dizzy, you don't need to go to the party. The party always comes to you.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia