About Dizzy Gillespie
John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, ushered in the era of Bebop in the American jazz tradition. He was born Cheraw, South Carolina, and was the youngest of nine children. He began playing piano at the age of four and received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Most noted for his trademark “swollen cheeks,” Gillespie admitted to copying the style of trumpeter Roy Eldridge early in his career.
He replaced Eldridge in the Teddy Hill Band after Eldridge’s departure. He began experimenting and creating his own style, which would eventually come to the attention of Mario Bauza, the godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz who was then a member of the Cap Calloway Orchestra. Joining Calloway in 1939, Gillespie was fired after two years when he cut a portion of Calloway’s buttocks with a knife after Calloway accused him of throwing spitballs (the two men later became lifelong friends and often retold this story with great relish until both of their deaths).
“In the naturally effervescent Mr. Gillespie, opposites existed. His playing — and he performed constantly until nearly the end of his life—was meteoric, full of virtuosic inventions, and deadly serious. But with his endlessly funny asides, his huge variety of facial expressions and his natural comic gifts, he was as much a pure entertainer as an accomplished artist. In some ways, he seemed to sum up all the possibilities of American popular art”
– Watrous, Peter. “Dizzy Gillespie, Who Sounded Some of Modern Jazz’s Earliest Notes, Dies at 75,” New York Times, January 7, 1993.
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