He loved the nickname “Dizzy,” and he did everything he could to live up to it. The hyperactive stage antics, the puffed cheeks, the distinctive bent trumpet—it all fed into his persona as a showman. Yet John Birks Gillespie was anything but dizzy. He was the brain trust of the bebop revolution: Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk were his creative equals (and may have been the only ones), but it was Gillespie who intellectualized the music, codified it, and became its emissary to the world.
It wasn’t his only direction. Gillespie is equally important in the birth of Latin jazz, and he did his best to push forward from there and to keep a creative edge right up to his passing in 1993. Here are 10 artifacts from that journey.
10. Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nation Orchestra: “A Night in Tunisia” (Live at the Royal Festival Hall; Enja, 1990)
No list of essential Gillespie would be complete without “A Night in Tunisia,” and since it was his traditional concert closer it will also close this list. He’s one of three trumpeters (along with protégés Claudio Roditi and Arturo Sandoval) in this band, the United Nation Orchestra, the acme of Gillespie’s one-world jazz vision. But you’ll have no trouble recognizing which one is him. This arrangement lets him combine sultry soul with high-speed pursuit. And, as is evident in his trumpet solo, reports at the time of the 72-year-old’s technical decline were greatly exaggerated. More than that, though, his ideas are as sharp as ever, a refinement of the revolutionary trumpet playing he’d been spearheading for nearly half a century.
Listen to a Spotify playlist including most of the tracks in this JazzTimes 10: