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Ken Vail Unveils Jazz Itineraries

Did you ever wonder what Dizzy Gillespie was doing this very day, January 7—oh, say, 55 years ago?

I was wondering about that, too.

It turns out that Dizzy was making his way to Sacramento, Calif., to play a one-nighter after being snowed in without his band at the Coconut Grove in Salt Lake City on December 5.

How about Ella Fitzgerald? Count Basie? Ever wonder what they were doing on this very day, long ago?

On January 7, 1937, Fitzgerald was in between broadcasts of WMCA’s Let’s Listen to Lucidin from the Biltmore Hotel in New York City with Stuff Smith’s Lucidin Orchestra. Filling in for an under-the-weather Helen Ward, this was the biggest break of Fitzgerald’s lifetime. And on Saturday, January 7, 1950, Count Basie was on the verge of a different kind of break: The next day, Basie’s fabled orchestra disbanded (though they later reformed in 1952).

These snapshots of jazz history are just the tip of the iceberg in Ken Vail’s latest effort, a series entitled Jazz Itineraries, published by Scarecrow Press. The first three books in the series—Dizzy Gillespie: The Bebop Years 1937-52, Ella Fitzgerald: The Chick Webb Years & Beyond 1935-48 and Count Basie: Swingin’ The Blues 1936-50—trace the artists almost daily, detailing all club and concert dates, recording sessions and public appearances.

In an instant, the reader is transported back to a time when “Basie is Boffo,” as opening any of these itineraries is like cracking a scrapbook from the ’40s. The books are plastered with period photographs, newspaper articles, concert and record reviews, advertisements and posters of Basie, Dizzy and Ella. At $24.99 (the price of two Dizzy CDs) the books are a little thin (100 pages) but Ken Vail’s Jazz Itineraries offer a fun and contextual perspective for listening and investigating as well as a window into the life and times of three legendary musicians.

Originally Published