Google is celebrating John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie’s birthday today with a special doodle. Gillespie is one of the all time greatest Jazz trumpeters, born in Cheraw, South Carolina he helped pioneer the bebop movement in jazz and earned the nickname “Dizzy” thanks to his zany on-stage persona.
Gillespie was a brass virtuoso and set high standards for trumpet players to follow with his innovative style. Described as, “jolting rhythmic shifts and ceaseless harmonic explorations” he ushered in a definitive new wave in American Jazz music from swing to bebop.
He was the youngest of nine children and his father, James, was a bricklayer, pianist and band leader. His mother’s name was Lottie. Dizzy’s father stored the band’s instruments at the family home and the young maestro was never far from a trumpet, saxophone, guitar or his father’s upright piano.
James encouraged all of his children to practice instruments but none of them cared for music. Dizzy was ten when his father died and although he never heard his youngest son play trumpet he got to enjoy his progress as a pianist.
In 1930, Gillespie set out to play the trombone but he was unable to flourish as his arms were too short. That same year he picked up a friend’s trumpet and was inspired to continue when he heard a radio broadcast of Roy Eldridge playing trumpet in Teddy Hill’s Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in New York City. That sparked Dizzy’s desire to become a professional trumpeter.
After graduating from Robert Smalls secondary school in 1933 Gillespie received a music scholarship at Laurinburg Institute, in North Carolina. He studied harmony and theory for two years until he moved to Philadelphia with his family.
There Gillespie began playing trumpet with local bands and learned Eldridge’s solos. He also won the “Dizzy” moniker while in Phili, but in 1937 he moved to New York and replaced his idol Eldridge in Teddy Hill’s Orchestra. Two years later he joined Cab Holloway’s band.
He met his wife, Lorraine who was a chorus dancer at the famed Apollo Theatre. They married in 1940 and remained together until his death.
During the early 1940’s Dizzy worked with some top musicians of that era including Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, “Fatha” Hines and Billy Eckstine’s seminal band, before teaming up with Charlie Parker in 1945.
Their iconic band brought the bebop era kicking and screaming into the world and they were one of the most influential acts of the twentieth century. As an arranger and composer Gillespie penned some of the greatest jazz classics such as “Groovin’ High”, “A Night in Tunisia” and “Manteca” which are still considered jazz classics today.
He is still a distinctive figure today with his trumpet and its golden upturned bell, his goatee, black horn rim glasses and beret. His image became synonymous with the rowdy, rebellious nature of the 40’s and 50’s, a time when people began to explore their creativity.
He had a healthy interest in Cuban and African music which he took to a wider, mainstream American audience through his playing.
His death from pancreatic cancer signalled the end of an era but he has inspired generations of trumpeters, not only with his playing but also his positive, upbeat and optimistic attitude.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DIZZY !
images: allaboutjazz.com, i-italy.us