Dizzy Gillespie Biography
Trumpeter and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie (Oct 21, 1917 - Jan 6, 1993), a true jazz giant, is known and respected as much for his personality and worldwide jazz promotion, as for his innovative contributions to modern jazz.
“Men have died for this music. You can’t get more serious than that.” ~ Dizzy Gillespie
The youngest of nine children, John Birks Gillespie began playing trumpet at fourteen after briefly trying the trombone. He later received a music scholarship to Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina.
John's earliest professional jobs were with the Frankie Fairfax band. His outlandish antics prompted fellow band members to give him the nickname Dizzy. One of his earliest influences was trumpeter Roy Eldridge whose style he learned to imitate. (It's interesting that Gillespie's own style was so complex that his contemporaries found it easier to copy trumpeters like Miles Davis and Fats Navarro.) Ironically, Dizzy went on to replace Eldridge in Teddy Hill's band.
“They’re not particular about whether you’re playing a flatted fifth or a ruptured 129th as long as they can dance to it.” ~ Dizzy Gillespie
Pivotal to his development was his introduction to Afro-Cuban rhthyms by fellow trumpeter Mario Bauza who he met while performing with Cab Calloway. It was also around this time that he had his first encounter with fellow bebop pioneer Charlie Parker who he met in Kansas City in 1940.
Gillespie went on to work with numerous bands, including several of his own. Among those he played with in addition to Parker are such jazz legends as Charlie Barnet, Les Hite, Lucky Millinder, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Gene Ammons, Yusef Lateef, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, John Coltrane, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, Billy Eckstine and Ray Brown.
“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” ~ Dizzy Gillespie
Heading up several U.S. State Department sponsored tours to Latin America and the Middle East, Dizzy grew in stature enjoying the respect and reverence accorded other jazz stalwarts like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He died on January 6, 1993, one of the most highly respected and beloved jazz musicians in the world.