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Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy In South America, Vol. 1

Dizzy Gillespie’s State Department tour in the summer of 1956 accomplished the government’s purpose of goodwill diplomacy. He and his band made lasting friends for the U.S. in Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil, as they had earlier in the Middle East. The music, however, was just a memory in the minds of those who played and heard it until Gillespie’s business partner, Dave Usher, put the tour tapes on CD. Volume 2 is another hour of Gillespie’s combination of 90 percent joyous music and 10 percent (rough estimate) inimitable nonsense.

Gillespie delights in indulging his grand passion, leading and performing in front of a big band. His mid-’50s band was one of the great ones, nearly the equal of the 1946-50 version. This was a period in which Gillespie often recaptured the virtuosity of his trumpet playing of the 1940s. There is much evidence of that here, from his fiery break on “Groovin’ High,” which opens the album, to his flights high above the saxophone riffs of “The Champ,” which ends it. His first solo on the 15-minute “Hey Pete, Let’s Eat More Meat” includes an opening passage that dazzles the listener with its flow, logic, articulation of 16th-notes and rhythmic perfection. It runs for nearly a chorus at medium tempo. Gillespie plays it in one breath. With his genius for the drama of contrast, he follows with two simple blues phrases built around pauses, releasing tension and causing considerable amusement among the sidemen. “Dizzy Gillespie,” one of them says in affirmation and, possibly, awe.

Gillespie’s unusual arrangement of “Begin the Beguine” is a highlight, and his writing stamp is all over “Tin Tin Deo” and “The Champ.” Other arrangements are by Melba Liston (“My Reverie”), Quincy Jones (“Hey Pete…”) and Ernie Wilkins (“Doodlin'”).

Gillespie gives 25-year-old Phil Woods the alto saxophonist’s introduction from hell, telling the audience that he will be featured on “Groovin’ High,” which “I had the pleasure of recording with the late, great genius of the alto saxophone, Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker.” Woods, his individuality within the Parker tradition and his confidence firmly established, brilliantly handles the challenge. Other soloists in the album are baritone saxophonist Marty Flax, alto saxophonist Jimmy Powell, trombonists Liston and Frank Rehak, drummer Charli Persip and pianist Walter Davis, whose instrument is audible but a long way from the microphone. Austin Cromer, a vocalist of the Billy Eckstine school, sings two songs to great audience acclaim. The band’s precision and enthusiasm and Gillespie, playing at a peak of his astonishing ability, make Volume 3 of this series something to look forward to.

Originally Published