GILLESPIE, Dizzy: Groovin' High

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\Groovin’ High" Original Recordings 1942-1949

"Progressive jazz or bop was a new version of old things, a theory of chords and so on…Bird was responsible for the actual playing of it and Dizzy put it down… Bird would play (he was so spontaneous)… But Diz would sit there, and whatever he played, he knew just what he was doing. It was a pattern, a thing that had been studied" – Billy Eckstine

A colossus among jazz innovators and, with his rough, pugnacious manner and irrepressible (often self-debunking) sense of humour one of its most colourful characters, bandleader, composer, would-be conga-drummer, vocalist and pianist-arranger, Dizzy Gillespie was – after Louis Armstrong – the single most influential trumpeter in jazz history. Alongside 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 mesmerising combination of showmanship and organisational skill) a veneer of respectability in the eyes of the trad purists.

Dizzy was born John Birks Gillespie, the last of nine children, into a modest family background in Cheraw, South Carolina, on October 21, 1917. His, a bricklayer, also ran a band in his spare time and the regular presence of instruments – and their players – in the Gillespie household fired young Dizzy’s musical imagination. Not long after his father died, in 1927, he was already musically proficient enough to win a scholarship to the North Carolina Negro Industrial School (aka the Laurinburg Institute) to study theory and harmony. His first instrument was the trombone but, by the age of fifteen, he was also playing trumpet, although he apparently never "studied" either in a formal sense.

In 1935, at eighteen, Dizzy moved with his family to Philadelphia and from then on gained experience and made a name for himself as a sideman in big bands between 1936 and 1943, gradually forging a new style which would alter the course of jazz history. In Philadelphia, this intelligent, self-educated but unquestionably rowdy 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, with one ear inclined to the NBC’s radio broadcasts of Teddy Hill’s band from the Harlem Savoy Ballroom, he avidly followed the fluent playing of his idol, Hill’s star trumpet Roy Eldridge (1911-1989). In 1937, 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) in New York.

Dizzy freelanced with several New York groups, such as 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, Dizzy the future ‘Clown Prince of Bebop’ was a prominent, if consistently wild, member of Cab Calloway’s band. A much-prized sideman, he there first indulged his interest in Afro-Cuban music (until, after many a stunt, he was finally fired by Calloway for allegedly throwing a spitball). During the next couple of years he worked brief stints with various bands, including Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, Les Hite, Lucky Millinder (1900-1966), Duke Ellington and, most notably, that of Earl Hines (1903-1983), the "virtual nursery of bop" where his colleagues included Parker, Billy Eckstine and the latter’s "discovery", Sarah Vaughan. Dizzy’s four July 1942 titles with Millinder’s Savoy Ballroom outfit constitute significant strides in the evolution of the bop style. Little John Special, is especially interesting in that it offers a fully-fledged ‘bop’ solo in a swing-band context. Dizzy’s solo is followed by a riff for full ensemble which he later elaborated into Salt Peanuts (and in 1944 recorded in one of the first small-group bop recordings).

Around this time Gillespie first recorded with Parker 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 formed the first of various jazz groups in whose ranks were arrayed the leading bop musicians of the day; Gillespie’s notable arrangements for him include this version of A Night In Tunisia, realised in conjunction with Frank Paparelli.

During 1944, Diz worked as trumpeter-arranger with Eckstine’s revolutionary if short-lived big-band (a departure which proved another step up the ladder of bebop) and in 1945 formed his own ill-fated big band, the All-Stars (tracks 3-6). When this latter venture failed financially, he focused on the small combos he had run simultaneously (at first a quintet, later a sextet and a septet) ad hoc groups usually comprising Parker, Al Haig, Milt Jackson and other modernists. By 1945 his list of compositions, which already read like a bop inventory, included such titles as Groovin’ High, Blue ’n’ Boogie (another collaboration with Paparelli) and Shaw ‘Nuff and between 1946 to 1950, the bluff, rough-hewed master-trumpeter fronted another, more definitive avant-garde big-band and emerged fully-fledged as the organiser and ‘think-tank’ of the modern jazz revolution. From its inception innovative in its scope, this more streamlined outfit won even greater global renown following a Scandinavian tour in 1948. It benefited from a sympathetic team of arrangers – Tadd Dameron, Gil Fuller, John Lewis and George Russell – and with the ad hoc addition of congas and bongos (notably, Chano Pozo, Sabú Martínez and Vince Guerra) to his rhythm section, Gillespie could at last give free rein to some interesting, if premeditated, Afro-Cuban rhythms which expanded the horizon of bebop from small combo to big band via a succession of exotically-titled pieces,including Guarachi Guaro and Things To Come.

Peter Dempsey, 2001


Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra

(Brunswick 03406; mx 71246A) Recorded 29th July, 1942 3:02

2 . INTERLUDE (A NIGHT IN TUNISIA) (Gillespie–Paparelli)

Boyd Raeburn and His Orchestra

(Guild 107; mx 542) Recorded January, 1945 3:08

3 . BE-BOP (Gillespie)

Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars

(Manor 5000; mx W 1225) Recorded 9th January, 1945 3:07

4 . GOOD BAIT (Dameron–Basie)

Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars

(Manor 1042; mx W 1223) Recorded 9th January, 1945 2:58

5 . I CAN’T GET STARTED (Duke–I.Gershwin)

Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars

(Manor 1042; mx W 1222) Recorded 9th January, 1945 3:04

6 . SALT PEANUTS (Gillespie–Clarke)

Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars

(Manor 5000; mx W 1225) Recorded 9th January, 1945 2:58

7 . CHEROKEE (Noble)

Joe Marsala Sextet

(Black & White 18; mx BW 74) Recorded 12th January, 1945 2:50

8 . GROOVIN’ HIGH (Gillespie–Paparelli)

Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Sextette

(Guild 1001; mx G-554-A) Recorded 28th February, 1945 2:41

9 . BLUE ’N’ BOOGIE (Gillespie)

Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra

(Guild 1001; mx G-555-B) Recorded 9th F
Disc: 1
Things To Come
1 Little John Special
2 Interlude (A Night In Tunisia)
3 Be-Bop
4 Good Bait
5 I Can't Get Started
6 Salt Peanuts
7 Cherokee
8 Groovin' High
9 Blue 'n Boogie
10 Shaw 'Nuff
11 Ol' Man Rebop
12 Emanon
13 Oopapada
14 Lover Come Back To Me
15 Guarachi Guard
16 In The Land Of Oo-Bla-Dee
17 'Round About Midnight
18 Things To Come
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