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Dizzy Gillespie

Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie emerged in the middle 1940s as essentially the last in a series of symbolic progressions of virtuosity in jazz that culminated 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 -- and if Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers extended the reach of virtuosity still farther, embracing still more possibilities -- 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 took many forms in many bebop trumpet players in the years after 1946, but few doubted that Gillespie was the master and matrix of it all.

Gillespie was born Oct. 21, 1917, in Cheraw, S.C. Starting as a self-taught player, his natural gifts won him a scholarship at the Laurinburg Institute, where he studied for three years before moving to Philadelphia in 1935. He first recorded with Teddy Hill's band in New York, and his solo on "King Porter Stomp" is full of the fiery energy and youthful braggadocio of Eldridge, who Gillespie replaced in Hill's group. In 1939 he joined the Cab Calloway band and during its travels first encountered Parker in Kansas City. But the after hours laboratory work that would lead to bebop was mostly confined to a handful of uptown clubs in New York, where Gillespie jousted with other players to the delight of mostly other musicians.

Two showmen in one band is one too many showman. And in Calloway's band the guy getting the attention was to be Calloway, who was not amused at Gillespie's peculiar brand of antics that had a way of winking at the audience behind the leader's back. Fired in 1941, Gillespie moved to Lucky Millinder's orchestra, where, just as Parker's first alto solos were coming out on the Jay McShann Deccas, Gillespie recorded "Little John Special" for the same label. 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 Parker, though as Martin Williams noted, "Parker's brilliance has sometimes clouded the issue of Gillespie's own."

If Parker's coolness served to make bebop an exclusionary cult music, Gillespie's natural good nature and sense of irony (not to mention his avoidance of the drug curse) pushed in the opposite direction to bring public awareness and interest. Moreover, he wasn't interested in leading combos in dimly lit clubs. Gillespie wanted to lead a band and in 1946 assembled one that would hold together for four years and record extensively for Victor ("Cubana Be/Cubana Bop," "Good Bait," "Manteca," and "Ool-Ya-Koo"). 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. There would be many tours with Norman Granz' Jazz At The Philharmonic units, in which any lingering hostilities between swing and bop were brushed aside in magnificent duets with Eldridge, with whom he enjoyed spectacular rapport.

Gillespie's rapport with audiences was equally golden, yet never got in the way of the music he offered. He was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1990. He died on Jan. 6, 1993, of cancer.

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