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.
3. Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra: “Manteca” (The Complete RCA Victor Recordings; Bluebird, 1995 [originally recorded December 30, 1947])
Gillespie’s response to jazz listeners’ confusion about bebop was to put it into a big-band context. By 1947, Gillespie was the talk of the jazz world, and he was already moving on to new innovations. “Manteca” is one of the founding texts of what we now call Latin jazz. He wrote it with Chano Pozo (whose congas are the sound you hear in the introduction to the record) and Gil Fuller (the orchestra’s house arranger), and once again it was like nothing ever heard before. Yet it’s catchy as hell, and Gillespie’s shouts of the title make it easy to remember what the song is called. Its central soloist is not the trumpeter but tenor saxophonist George “Big Nick” Nicholas, who delivers a flawless improvisation. Nevertheless, it’s Dizzy’s triumph.
Listen to a Spotify playlist including most of the tracks in this JazzTimes 10: