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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.

7. Dizzy Gillespie: “Chega de Saudade” (New Wave!; Philips, 1963)

7. Dizzy Gillespie: “Chega de Saudade” (<i>New Wave!</i>; Philips, 1963)

There’s a tendency to think that Gillespie siloed himself into the sound of 1947 for the entirety of his career. In fact, he made a point of keeping up with new trends, as witnessed by his 1962 performance of this bossa nova standard. Gillespie leads an octet through the sprightly arrangement (recorded live in New York City), with solos by pianist Lalo Schifrin and alto saxophonist Leo Wright that are sprightlier still. When it comes to Dizzy’s turn, he has a sense of dance in his improvisation that was often buried in his bebop peak by all his latticework. Some of that is here too—but put into the service of the bossa groove. As is his ever-present playfulness, for which one need look no further than the way he spirals around Wright in the song’s bridge.

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.