Trumpeter, bandleader, and bebop pioneer
Dizzy Gillespie, New York City, c. 1947.
Courtesy of William P. Gottlieb.
Born October 21, 1917, in Cheraw, SC
Died January 6, 1993, in New York City
“You only have so many notes,” John Birks Gillespie once explained, “and what makes a style is how you get from one note to the other.” Gillespie was in full command of every note on the trumpet – with a special fondness for the high, hard ones – but it was the way he strung them together that made him one of the greatest artists in jazz history. The youngest of nine children, Gillespie learned the value of speed, agility, and humor at the family dinner table and each found its way into his playing. Those elements, combined with his profound understanding of harmony were central to the development of the virtuosic style called bebop, and he was always willing to share all that he knew with younger musicians eager to learn how to play along.
Gillespie was also a zestful showman seasoned in the swing era who believed even the most challenging jazz should be “rhythmic enough to make you want to move.” To make his audiences want to do just that he led a series of brilliant big bands and, working with the conga master Chano Pozo, showed how jazz could be blended with Afro-Cuban rhythms. No one did more than he to demonstrate the power of jazz to cross all international boundaries; the role of music and musicians, he said, was to “help set things right.”
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