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Chronology: A Statesman with Sticks

Charli Persip's 1960 debut as a leader blends big-band flash and hard-bop heart

Charli Persip

From this vantage point it may be hard to remember just how influential Dizzy Gillespie was in 1960. Not only did he help connect the dots to Afro-Cuban and world music, but the nightly repertoire of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, and so many others borrowed from the book of his big band. From 1954 to 1958 his main drummer in that band was Charli Persip, and the two would keep working together until about 1962.

Every jazz fan has heard some small-group Gillespie/Persip, at the very least “The Eternal Triangle” with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins. The Verve big-band LPs might be less instantly familiar today, but World Statesmen, Dizzy in Greece, Birk’s Works, and At Newport were studied carefully by an interested community, and thanks to the State Department, Dizzy’s big band played all over the world. Persip was integral to that band’s sound, always setting up the hits in personal fashion and keeping the breakneck bebop tempos in just the right place. Indeed, some argue that Persip and Mel Lewis were the two greatest big-band drummers of the postwar, postbop era. 

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Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson

Ethan Iverson has been writing about jazz for 15 years, mostly on his blog Do the Math. While he was the founding pianist of the Bad Plus, these days Iverson performs in a duo with Mark Turner and in Billy Hart’s quartet, has a longstanding relationship with Mark Morris, and teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.