GILLESPIE, Dizzy: Dizzy Atmosphere

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‘Dizzy Atmosphere’ Original Recordings 1946-1952

The bluff and pugnacious Dizzy Gillespie was, with Charlie Parker, the leading jazz innovator of the 1940s. One of the most colourful protagonists in that idiom he was variously bandleader, composer, conga-drumming experimenter, pianist-arranger and vocalist and, after Louis Armstrong, the single most influential trumpeter in jazz history. With Charlie Parker a prime mover in the emergence of bop, he became its most ‘far out’ exponent, conferring upon the revolutionary new form (via a winning combination of showmanship and organisational skill) a semblance of respectability.

Dizzy was born John Birks Gillespie, the last of nine children, into a modest family background in Cheraw, South Carolina, on 21 October 1917. His father, a bricklayer, was an amateur musician who played piano and ran a band in his spare time. The regular presence of music in the Gillespie household fired young Dizzy’s musical imagination and, by the time of his father’s death in 1927, he was already proficient on trombone. In 1932, aged fifteen, Dizzy won a scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, where he studied theory and harmony. They needed a trumpeter in the college band and Diz soon filled the breach, although by most accounts he never made a formal study of that instrument either.

In 1935, the eighteen-year-old Dizzy moved with his family to Philadelphia and between 1936 and 1943 made a name for himself as a sideman in big bands, gradually forging the new style which would alter the course of jazz history. In Philadelphia, this intelligent, autodidactic but over-assertive country youth found work first in local bands, including that of Frank Fairfax, where his fellow-trumpeters included Charlie Shavers and Carl ‘Bama’ Warwick. In 1936, his ear inclined to Teddy Hill’s NBC’s radio broadcasts from the Harlem Savoy Ballroom, he avidly followed the fluent playing of his idol, Hill’s star trumpet Roy Eldridge (1911-1989) and the following year, having already transferred to New York, he auditioned successfully for the place Eldridge had vacated in Hill’s outfit and, by mid-year, had toured France and Great Britain and made his first records with the band (for RCA Victor).

Dizzy next freelanced with several New York groups, including Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans and Alberto Socarras’ Afro-Cuban band before briefly rejoining Hill and working (and recording) with Lionel Hampton, in 1939. From later that year until 1941 the future ‘Clown Prince of Bebop’ remained a prominent and much-prized, if consistently wild, fixture of Cab Calloway’s band. With Calloway, working closely with Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauzá, he indulged his fascination with Afro-Cuban rhythms - until Calloway fired him for persistent bad behaviour. During the next couple of years brief sojourns with various bands followed, including Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Les Hite, Lucky Millinder (1900-1966), Duke Ellington and, most notably, from 1943, Earl Hines (1903-1983), the ‘virtual nursery of bop’ where his colleagues included Parker, Billy Eckstine and the latter’s discovery Sarah Vaughan.

In July 1942 Dizzy recorded four titles with Millinder’s Savoy Ballroom outfit in which his innovative solos constituted significant strides in the evolution of bop in a swing-band context and around this time he first joined forces on a regular basis with Parker (while both were with Hines) and also jived and recorded in groups led by tenor (and bass) saxophonist and ex-commercial bandleader Boyd Raeburn (1913-1966) and clarinettist Joe Marsala (1907-1978). During 1944, Raeburn’s 52nd Street-based, pioneering bop groups boasted the leading jazz musicians of the day, including Gillespie who, later that same year, worked as trumpeter-arranger with Eckstine’s revolutionary, short-lived big-band. In 1945, after leading a small combo at the Three Deuces, Diz formed and toured with his own big band, the All-Stars. The catalogue of his original compositions was already a virtual inventory of bop when this venture failed financially and, fortuitously, in May, he joined forces with Parker to form the now-legendary All-Star Quintet.

From December 1945 Diz toured California with a sextet which by 1946 had evolved into another, more streamlined avant-garde big band, one which by mid-1948, after various tours (notably to Scandinavia) won Gillespie’s new style global recognition, its ranks variously including Modern Jazz Quartet founders Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, Milt Jackson and John Lewis, as well as Sonny Stitt and John Coltrane. By 1950, however, Dizzy bowed again to financial pressure and disbanded. For a while he was featured as a soloist in the Kenton big-band but from 1951 onwards, having realised that small was beautiful, he fronted his own combos along the lines of those he had run previously, adhoc quintets and sextets which often as not included Bill Graham, Milt Jackson, Al Jones and other modernists. During 1951 he also set up his own record company, Dee-Gee (tracks 13—20) in Detroit, yet another Gillespie financial venture which folded after only limited success.

Peter Dempsey, 2003

Disc: 1
1 52nd Street Theme
2 Anthropology
3 Diggin' For Diz
4 Dynamo A (Dizzy Atmosphere)
5 Two Bass Hit
6 Ow!
7 Cool Breeze
8 Cubana Re
9 Cubana Bop
10 Manteca
11 I Should Care
12 Birk's Works
13 Swing Low Sweet Cadillac
14 Caravan
15 Oo-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be
16 Tin Tin Daeo
17 Umbrella Man
18 Stardust
19 Pop's Confessin' (I'm Confessin')
20 Jump-Did-Le-Ba
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