eatles and Pearl Jam have forgotten all about the musicians that paved the way for these artists, and the musical styles that evolved into rock and roll, rhythm and blues and rap or hip hop. Unfortunately the music that once dominated the night clubs, restaurants, and radio stations is now heard only in elevators or when we go to a grandparents house to visit. What is left of jazz are small portions of the music that people take and sample with in a new song.
Jazz and its historical figures have mistreated and forgotten by today's society. One of the figure most forgotten is John Birks Gillespie, known to the jazz world as "Dizzy" Gillespie. "Dizzy" Gillespie was a trumpet player, composer, bandleader and politician of mostly the early 40's to mid 50's. This was a time period in Jazz called Bebop, Bop or sometimes known as Rebop. Bebop got its name from the musical language musicians would speak to one another while trying to explain a rhythm.
"Bop, Bop, Doba sho ba, Bop, Bop." this was also a common style of singing which was first introduced by Louis Armstrong, called scatting (Kerfeld, 137). This fast tempo music was pioneered by saxophonist Charlie Parker, drummer Max Roach, pianist Thelonious Monk and trumpeter "Dizzy" Gillespie. Gillespie was one of the chief innovators of this new style of music as well as an important figure to all musicians to follow him and international figure for the United States.(Kerfeld, 137)
John Birks was born in Cheraw, South Carolina on October 21, 1917. The young prodigy was first introduced to music by his father, a weekend bandleader.
Gillespie's father was not as talented as John was to become, he relied on a more stable income as mason around their home ~own. Four years after his fathers death, when Birks was 14, he began learning the trombone and trumpet without any formal instruction. Recognized by the staff at Laurinberg Institute, in North Carolina, as a prodigy, he was given a scholarship to be a member of the band in 1932. Throughout his stay at the Laurinberg Institute he studied vigorously both the trumpet and piano, building him self a long road that would constantly pave the way to something valuable, new, and historic (Kerfeld, 428). Gillespie did not know that he would become a pioneer in a new style called Bebop, or that he would become a role model for other musicians that followed.
Like all musicians today, Gillespie studied the works and styles of other performers, and composers. Gillespie admired the style and work of Roy Elridge so much that he started to sound like Elridge. Some time later Gillespie was hired in a band because he played with Elridge=s style so well. In his studies he would transcribe or learn the notes and phrases that Elridge would play during his solos (Powis, 58).
Although to become a Jazz musician, Gilllespie did not idolize only jazz musicians, he also greatly enjoyed listening to and examining the styles of musicians like Stravinsky, a virtuoso composer of the classic period, and Maurice Ravel another composer, famous for works like "Bolero", a piece that consisted of a phrase that repeated over and over, each time getting louder and thicker (Powis, 58).
Dizzy unfortunately was to be later recognized by many for his many distinguishable trademarks instead of the musical proficiency he worked so hard for. He was famous for his sense of humor. At a performance Dizzy asked the audience if he could introduce the band.
The audience replied swiftly "yes". He than began introducing the saxophone player to the drummer and the trumpet player to the trombonist and so forth (Wastrous, January 17). He also expressed his incredible humor within his music as well. In his own interpretation of the spiritual, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," Gillespie develops the song into "Swing low Sweet Cadillac." He had changed the lyrics to suit his comic personality.
He sang in the new song these more modern and jest words.
I looked over Jordan, and what did I see,
Come for to carry me home? Oh! an Elderado,
coming after me, Coming for to carry me home.
His jest and relaxed attitude is what won him the name "Dizzy" (Yardley, 2). He was given the nick by one of his earlier band leaders, Teddy Hill, because of his clothing style and loose attitude toward everything (Watrous, January 7). Other identifying characteristics were his enormous cheeks which would inflate like balloons as he took in air while he playing. Dizzy was also recognizably the only trumpeter ever to have a trumpet with its bell or flaring part, up turned at a 45 degree angle.
He discovered this new idea when somebody fell on his trumpet at a party. He picked it up and tried it, and fell in love with its unique sound (Levy, 1). However "Diz" did not discover his new style of trumpet until after the Bebop period was well on its way to extinction.
Before the quick pace, explosive sound of Bebop Gillespie had to make a name for him self. In Philadelphia he played with a big band lead by Frankie Fairfax. From Philadelphia he moved to New York in 1937.
In New York, one of the focal points for jazz at that time, Gillespie played with the Teddy Hill Band. He was given the position in this band because he sounded like one of his influences, Roy Elridge (Kerfeld, 428). Playing with Hills band Gillespie traveled throughout Europe. Once he returned to New York Gillespie got his first big gig, as a trumpeter in Cab Calloway's band. During 1939, a time still unequal for blacks and whites, Cab Calloway.
had the highest paying black band around town (Gleason, 151).
Gillespie on several occasions got together with Charlie Parker to write and jam around on a few songs. In after hour sessions, the to soon to be legends took old popular pieces and expanded them to new compositions. The melodies were intricate and explosive but were based on the harmonic structures of old songs.
"Anthropology" , now one standard songs every jazz musician should know, was based on a piece composed earlier by George Gershwin. This song by Gershwin entitled "I Got Rhythm" would become the harmonic background for many song in which Gillespie would copy its pattern. The harmonic pattern of these standard changes begins with two chords in each measure.(see Fig.1)
Bb6 G7/ C-7 F7/ Bb7 G-7/ C-7 F7/ F-7 D7
This pattern or progression consists of chord symbols that represent the harmonic structure to be built above each note (Kerfeld, 429).
In the song "Anthropology" written by Gillespie and Parker during this period, the following harmonic pattern is played by the rhythm section or bass, drums, and piano, while Gillespie and Parker play the melody or alternate solo's with one another.(see Fig.2)
Bb6 G7/ C-7 F7/ Bb7 G-7/ C-7 F7/ F-7 D7
Even though the harmonic background was identical, what he and "Bird" created was something new.
Gillespie also copies this pattern in some of his other compositions such as "Dizzy Atmosphere" and ASalt Peanuts". Through on-stage improvisation, Gillespie expanded the previous pattern into something tremendously more complex, both harmonically and melodically (Gleason, 155). Bebop was a creation of his own hard won intuition (Watrous, January 17). Gillespie amazed audiences with this new style he was co-responsible for with astonishing technical intricacies and blistering speeds.
Bebop was played as fast as it was humanly possible to play (Yardely, 2). Most music of the period prior to that was performed at a very moderate tempo, probably around 120 - 130 on a metronome. Bebop left a fiery trail across the stage, moving along at tempos of 200 and higher. Gillespie was responsible for establishing the first Bebop big band, which combined the speed and melodic complexity of the small quintet, with the larger sixteen piece instrumentation of a big band, which included, 5 saxophones, 4 trombones, 4 or 5 trumpets, a bass, a piano, guitarist, drummer, and sometimes even a vocalist (Kerfeld, 428).
What distinctly set Gillespie aside from "Bird" in the Bebop period was his improvisational style.
Gillespie in his solo's took the listener to places never explored before. In his solo's Gillespie let out all the thoughts his heart felt. His horn and heart are directly connected, his trumpet living of the power and expression of his heart and his heart thriving off the expression and power his horn creates. His improvisations "reproduce the extremes and velocities of urban life". His solo's also always expressed the true conflict between an artist and his work. His phrases and ideas jagged and sharp, shocking the audience (Watrous, January 17).
Another way he explored through his horn were the high, blistering, "stratospheric" notes he blurted out with a scream during his solo's (Levy, 1). "His range was breath taking." (Yardley, 2). Unlike many other trumpet players "Dizzy" did not use cheap tricks in his playing, he had an arson of technical skill that guided him through each passage.
He had facility and grace that no other trumpet player since Louis Armstrong could even come close to. He could swoop from one register to another ghosting over all the notes in between (Yardley, 2). His style was unique, erupting out of silence Gillespie would blast a fiery, window breaking note of the stage. His jagged and angular style used chromatic or stepwise figures that lead the audience up a stairway to a jazz listeners heaven.
Each of his melodic lines would flow freely through the harmonic patterns or progressions be played by the rhythm section beneath him Suddenly after sliding down the musical staff Gillespie would bolt into a extremely high register only to tumble his way back down to begin again (Watrous, January 15). "Dizzy" took is own intricate melodies and advanced even more during his solo's. His playing flowed freely and logically (New York Times, December 22). In his composition "Groovin= High", based on the harmonic pattern of "whispering" an earlier popular tune, he improvises a complex line of ascending and descending lines and patterns.
A sample of the original melody is shown below.(see Fig.3)
After that melody and the rest of the "head" or chorus of the song is finished Gillespie begins to place his spontaneous composition over the one previously given.(see Fig.4)
Even a person that knows nothing about music theory or harmony can see the complexity and involvement of his work (Paparelli, 10).
"Dizzy's improvisational skill and technique astonished us all. Through his music and intense relationship with his horn he hear shares his inner most feelings with us all. He call's these a 24 hour mistress, in an article by Alan Elbert, "Dizzy" explains his relationship:
"It's always spinning around in my head. I
not only hear but see and feel it in vivid colors
and sometimes pastels And it has shapes and forms
that move. When I play all kinds of activity is taking
place, but its all in my head. The feeling can be
sweet or it can be sad, but it's all feeling"
His feelings are what brought amazement and thrill to audiences for years.
In Bebop and later another one of Gillespie's discoveries Afro-Cuban Jazz, he was a genius and a giant.
Once Gillespie became a giant of the music world he began to influence every musician that preceded him. All jazz musicians that followed the Bebop era dreamed of being like @emailprotected and "Bird". They respected the ones of earlier era's like Louis Armstrong and Roy Elridge but wanted be just like Gillespie and Parker (Levy 1). "Gillespie was to music as Stravinsky was to ballet.
"(Yardley, Jan.11). Lavonda Elam, a singer in her late thirties, said at "Dizzy's" funeral service:
"He was a fine, powerful musician,
and he added so much to American
music. I am here to give him some
of my time. It's the least I can
do because he affected my life as
a black American woman."
(Watrous, January 13).
His solo's and compositions are published in books so other musicians can study and learn from all that he accomplished. His works both melodic and improvisational are consider standard material for every jazz trumpet player to know. Even during Gilllespie=s period with Parker musicians would play their record over and over on the turntable until they could copy what he was doing. (Levy, 1).
"Dizzy" led his band on tours through many foreign countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Greece, and Turkey. The tours and concerts were sponsored by the state department in conjunction with International Exchange Program of the American National Theater and Academy.
The money that funded Mr. Gillespie's band was taken from the presidents emergency fund for international affairs. He enjoyed the warmth of politics so much that he ran for the presidency in 1964. If elected he promised to change the White house to the "blue House" and make Miles Davis, another legendary jazz trumpet player, head of the CIA (Levy,1).
Most of Gillespie's most valuable work has been with his trumpet on stage making music instead of "apologizing for the state department" as he called it.
Dizzy Gillespie is a historic legend that introduced an entire world of music to people. "Dizzy" should be recognized by everyone as one of music's "Gods" instead of humorous figure with huge distorted cheeks and a bent trumpet (Span, 1). To further understand this unique person and complicated genre of music I recommend reading about the subject. Listening to some of Gilllespie=s work and creativity may also give a better understanding of his importance and technical grace. His death ended a musical progression through time in which jazz grew more and more.
Gillespie planting and sowing the first seeds, raised his new crop called Bebop into a blossoming gift for all.
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Watrous, Peter. Dizzy Gillespie, Who Sounded Some of Modern Jazz's Earliest Notes, Dies at 75. New York Times. 7 January 1993: Sec D, 12.
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Big Band Live In Stereo At Chester PA...
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Birks Works: The Verve Big-Band Sessions
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Giant/Portrait Of Jenny
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Gold Collection (2cd)
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