"Dizzy" Gillespie: Fifty years after helping found a new style of revolutionary jazz that came to be known as bebop, his music is still a major contributing factor in the development of modern jazz.
Born John Birks Gillespie October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina, the last of nine children.
In 1927, at age ten, his father died, leaving the family in terrible financial trouble. Around this time Gillespie's English teacher introduced him to music, and he soon joined the school band. At first he played the trombone, but switched to the trumpet after borrowing a neighbor's and immediately falling in love with the instrument. His natural gifts won him a scholarship at the Laurinburg Institute, where he studied for three years. Over the next several years, Gillespie played with local bands to both black and white audiences until his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1935.
Gillespie played with bands in Philadelphia from 1935 to 1937. In Philadelphia, Gillespie earned his nickname for his unpredictable and funny behavior: When Gillespie was in the Frankie Fairfax band he carried his new trumpet in a paper bag, an act that inspired fellow musicians like Bill Doggett to call him "Dizzy."
In New York City, the Teddy Hill Orchestra hired Gillespie for a European tour. By 1937, at age 20, Gillespie had already made a name for himself among New York musicians, who could not help but notice his radically fresh take on solo (single) trumpet playing. Gillespie made his first recordings with the Teddy Hill Orchestra just prior to leaving for Europe with "The Cotton Club Show."
In 1939, Gillespie joined the Cab Calloway Orchestra. Calloway played the Cotton Club and toured extensively. During its travels, he first encountered Charlie Parker in Kansas City where they jammed several hours at the Booker T. Washington Hotel.
During this period, Gillespie continued to play, jousting with other players, all-night jam sessions at Minton's and Monroe's Uptown House in New York City to develop his musical knowledge and style. It was his 'after work' hours that would lead to bebop.
During his work in the Calloway band, Calloway was not amused at Gillespie's peculiar brand of antics which the audience began to enjoy. Calloway was to be the only showman in his band. Fired in 1941, Gillespie moved to Lucky Millinder's orchestra, where, just as Parker's first alto solos were coming out with Jay McShann, Gillespie recorded "Little John Special" for the same label (Decca).
It not only included solo work every bit as provocative as Parker's, but it also had the singular riff that the jazz world would shortly come to know as "Salt Peanuts." Many of the same records that would launch Parker and bebop would also introduce Gillespie. Performances such as Groovin' High, Dizzy Atmosphere and Hot House would also link Gillespie with "Bird."
Gillespie joined the Earl "Fatha" Hines band in 1942, about the same time Charlie Parker did. Although Parker became famous as an alto saxophonist, he was playing tenor sax at that time.
A large part of the Earl Hines band departed in 1943 to form a new group headed by Billy Eckstine. Former Hines members who joined Eckstine included Sarah Vaughan (1924–1990), Gillespie, Parker, and others. Gillespie became musical director for Eckstine, whose backers got him a job on 52nd Street.
After leaving Eckstine, Gillespie substituted in the Duke Ellington Orchestra for about four weeks, then formed his own group to play at the newly opened Onyx Club on 52nd Street. Gillespie had been playing bebop (a new, radically different form of jazz) whenever he could since 1940. Now he was able to play it full time.
52nd Street became the proving ground for a new jazz style that had previously been played primarily at late night jam sessions. "The opening of the Onyx Club represented the birth of the bebop era," Gillespie recalled in his book, To Be or Not to Bop.
Also in 1944, Gillespie received the New Star Award from Esquire magazine, the first of many awards he would receive in his career. Describing the new style his quintet played, Gillespie wrote, "We'd take the chord structures of various standard and pop tunes and create new chords, melodies, and songs from them."
Gillespie's quintet and the presentation of modern jazz reached its peak in 1953—with a concert at Massey Hall in Toronto that featured Gillespie, Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and legendary jazz bassist Charles Mingus. Billed by jazz critics as "the greatest jazz concert ever," it was recorded by Mingus and later released on Debut Records.
His band was together for four years and recorded extensively for RCA Victor, song such as Cubana Be/Cubana Bop, Good Bait, Manteca, and Ool-Ya-Koo were a few.
There would be other bands, such as one assembled for an early State Department tour in 1956, and occasional reunions with Parker on Debut and Clef records and many tours with Norman Granz' Jazz At The Philharmonic units. Gillespie emerged in the middle 1940s as essentially the last in a series of symbolic progressions of virtuosity in jazz that ended in the consolidation of bebop. If Charlie Parker was the soul of bebop, Gillespie was its heart and public face.
If Armstrong had expanded the reach of instrumental technique for his generation making more things possible, then Gillespie seemed to reach the final theoretical point of command that made all things possible, effectively ending the arms race of capacity that had driven jazz for two decades. His speed, articulation, and sense of surprise showed up in many bebop trumpet players in the years after 1946, but few doubted that he was the master and matrix of it all.
Excerpts from http://www.anothershadeofcolor.com and http://www.notablebiographies.com/Gi-He/Gillespie-Dizzy.html.