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Jazz Fans Remember Dizzy Gillespie on 90th Birthday

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One of the world's most popular figures in jazz was trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. His skills as a composer, improviser, singer and bandleader helped shape "be-bop" in the 1940s, and set the stage for modern jazz. To mark what would have been Dizzy's 90th birthday on October 21, VOA's Doug Levine sheds a little light on his lasting legacy.

While many remember Dizzy Gillespie for such groundbreaking pieces as "A Night In Tunisia," others will always think of him playing a funny shaped trumpet with his cheeks so puffed up they looked as though they were about to burst. The bell of his trumpet was bent at a 45-degree angle, which Dizzy claimed was the result of someone accidentally falling on it. Ironically, he liked its new tone so much, he decided to have all of his trumpets designed with the bell pointing upwards. That became his trademark.

Besides being a great showman, Dizzy was a pioneer. According to Donald L. Maggin, author of the biography Dizzy: The Life And Times Of John Birks Gillespie, he lifted jazz to a new level of appreciation.

"Dizzy made two aesthetic revolutions," he said. "He was an incredible improviser and an incredible performer and everything. But I think his main significance in the history of jazz is in those two revolutions, because I think that's what his fame a hundred years from now will rest on.

"It was an evolution in that he was a part of the continuum of great people who came before him, like [Louis] Armstrong and [Duke] Ellington and Coleman Hawkins and [Roy] Eldridge," Maggin added. "And then his generation with [Charlie] Parker, and then handing it on to the younger generations like Lee Morgan and Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D'Rivera. He felt himself part of a continuum, and he use to say, 'No Armstrong, no me.'"

Few embraced Afro-Cuban jazz more than Dizzy Gillespie. Biographer Donald L. Maggin says Dizzy was a natural-born composer.

"He adapted Afro-Cuban music with Manteca and Chano Pozo, and he adapted be-bop with things like 'Things To Come,' which is a big band thing at 300 beats-a-minute," he said. "And he transformed big band music in those years and in subsequent big bands that he had, and that's a very important part of his legacy."

Dizzy Gillespie's death at age 75 in 1993 marked the end of an era. No artist had brought jazz to so many countries, which is why, on the anniversary of his 90th birthday, he is still considered "The World Statesman Of Jazz."

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