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.
So far, this JazzTimes 10 has been noticeably lacking in ballads. The truth is that Dizzy’s most, well, dizzying work is also his most memorable. On the other hand, he could make a slow number sing just as well as anyone. This relaxed session with guitarist Joe Pass, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Mickey Roker is a case in point. Gillespie’s decorations of the main melody are tasteful and apropos, and his improvisation is cogent and profound, distinctively himself yet reverent toward the Joseph Meyer melody (and the spirit of Buddy Bernier’s lyric). His improv leading up to the out-head is more technically virtuosic and devil-may-care, but in this case it drips with that Dizzy Gillespie charm.
Listen to a Spotify playlist including most of the tracks in this JazzTimes 10: