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JazzTimes 10: Essential Dizzy Gillespie Recordings

Must-hear music by a bebop and Latin-jazz visionary

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.

2. Dizzy Gillespie Sextet: “Dizzy Atmosphere” (Timeless Dizzy Gillespie; Savoy Jazz, 2002 [originally recorded February 28, 1945])

2. Dizzy Gillespie Sextet: “Dizzy Atmosphere” (<i>Timeless Dizzy Gillespie</i>; Savoy Jazz, 2002 [originally recorded February 28, 1945])

All three tracks from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s fabled first record date have become classics. (And why not? Bebop begins here.) It’s on “Dizzy Atmosphere,” though, that Gillespie gets his chance to throw a spanner in the works. His one-chorus solo follows Parker’s; the first eight bars, though expressed in a new harmonic flavor, are fairly rooted in swing. The next strain opens with a piercing, syncopated squeal that could only have startled listeners in 1945. It’s after the bridge that we get the real mindblower: a blast of triplets, played at breakneck speed. It sounds like nothing that preceded it. Is there any wonder that lindy hoppers and dancehall bookers were so shocked by and resistant to Gillespie’s ideas in those early days?

Listen to a Spotify playlist including most of the tracks in this JazzTimes 10:


Read Gary Giddins’ 2006 Cadenza column on Dizzy Gillespie.

Dizzy Gillespie: 1982 NEA Jazz Master

Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.