Nov. 27 and 29, 1961 were just another couple of nights for the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, two more stops on an endless world tour, this time in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, Germany. The shows they played those evenings were never intended to be heard outside of those rooms, let alone a half-century later. But thanks to the newly created Jazzhaus label, which has uncovered and begun releasing a trove of hundreds of audio and video recordings made at long-forgotten German gigs, we have some new Diz to consume. If the question we want to ask is just how good this outfit was on just another night in just another city, the answer is: quite remarkable.
Gillespie was still at the peak of his popularity in the early ’60s, and his chops were sturdy and his reach was broad: The German audiences received tastes of Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban side, his bebop, balladry and more—his seriousness and his humor. At these shows, fronting a group comprising pianist Lalo Schifrin, Leo Wright on alto saxophone and flute, bassist Bob Cunningham and the great Mel Lewis drumming, Diz spills out complex, dense but oddly accessible trumpet lines from the start of the program, Ellington’s “The Mooche.” Two versions of “Con Alma” vary slightly in demeanor and tempo but are equally satisfying; “Willow Weep for Me,” showcasing Wright’s flute, cries appropriately; and “Kush,” presented here as a vehicle for extended soloing (Schifrin dazzles), argues that Gillespie’s command of small groups rivaled his revered large-ensemble leadership.