Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet, vocals; Gil Fuller - conductor, arranger; Martin Banks - trumpet; Steve Furtado - trumpet; Al Bryant - trumpet; Al Gibbons - alto saxophone; Chris Woods - alto saxophone; Buddy Terry - tenor, soprano saxophones; Harold Vick - tenor saxophone; Bill Phipps - tenor saxophone; James Moody - tenor saxophone; Kiane Zawabi - trombone; Ashley Fernall - trombone; Jack Jeffers - trombone; Mike Longo - piano; Paul West - bass; Carlos "Patato" Valdez - congas; Otis "Candy" Finch - drums; Art Blakey - drums; Guest: Benny Carter - alto saxophone
For a special program entitled "Schlitz Salute to Big Bands," Dizzy Gillespie put together a special big band to close out the Friday evening proceedings. Schooled in big bands as a young musician (he came up with orchestras led by Frank Fairfax, Edgar Hayes, Teddy Hill, and Cab Calloway during the '30s and later joined the Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine big bands of the early '40s), Gillespie helped pioneer bebop in 1945 in small group settings alongside his musical partner Charlie Parker, whom he referred to as "the other half of my heartbeat." He returned to a big band setting in 1947 with his groundbreaking Afro-Cuban ensemble. By 1949, he broke up the big band and continued to work exclusively in combos, including a stint as a featured player with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. Dizzy was able to put together a big band in 1956 for an international tour sponsored by the State Department (a gig which cemented his status as a worldwide ambassador of jazz). He continued to lead small groups through the '60s and '70s, then returned to the big band format once again in the late '80s with his United Nation Orchestra, which featured an international cast of stellar players.
Dizzy's gala performance at big band night of the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival was further heightened by the presence of alto sax great Benny Carter, making his first-ever appearance at George Wein's bash on the bay. They open with a brassy big band flag-wave, which is fueled by the powerful drumming of Art Blakey and percussionist Carlos "Patato" Valdez and features some pyrotechnic playing from Gillespie and alto saxophonist Chris Woods. Next up is an insinuating Afro-Cuban rendition of Gillespie's "Con Alma," rendered as a mambo (with a slight cha-cha-cha tinge) and featuring a stunning solo by tenor saxophonist James Moody. Pianist Mike Longo, an Oscar Peterson protégé from Cincinnati, also turns in a glistening solo over the entrancing groove. Dizzy elevates the proceedings with his inimitable high-note blasts from his trumpet while Patato adds some Afro-Cuban flavor with a virtuoso conga solo near the tag.
Turning funky, the big band slides into Longo's boogaloo, "Ding a Ling." Dizzy digs into this earthy vehicle with gusto while tenor man Moody, a frequent Gillespie foil through the '60s, unleashes some heat of his own here. Alto sax great Benny Carter next joins the orchestra for a rendition of his buoyantly swinging blues "Doozy." The orchestra then leaves the stage as Carter is featured with the rhythm section only on a stirring rendition of the classic jazz ballad "I Can't Get Started." Carter's graceful, lyrical approach to this timeless melody written by Vernon Duke for the Broadway production of Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 (with Ira Gershwin lyrics sung by Bob Hope) perfectly demonstrates why he is still regarded as one of the major figures in jazz. (Carter had a remarkably productive career as a saxophonist-composer-arranger-bandleader, remaining active into his 90s). Carter concludes his Newport premiere with a rendition of Duke Jordan's "Jordu," a tune that was popularized in 1954 by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet.
Dizzy and the orchestra continue with a dynamic readings of Gil Fuller's evocative "Angel City Blues" and "17 Mile Drive" (both pieces appearing on 1965's Gil Fuller & the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra with Dizzy Gillespie & James Moody). Moody is prominently featured on this final number. And they conclude their set just a taste of a blues, which Dizzy abruptly cuts off by singing, "WELLLLLLLLLLL… BYE!"—a little teasing trick he had also pulled on the audience in previous appearances at Newport.
Born on October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina, Gillespie began on trombone, switched to trumpet at age 12 and began playing professionally at age 18, inspired by the exuberant Swing Era trumpeter Roy Eldridge. He broke into the business with the Frankie Fairfax band based in Philadelphia and in 1937 replaced his trumpet hero Eldridge in the Teddy Hill Orchestra, making his recording debut on a version of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp." Gillespie joined Cab Calloway's band in 1939 and he remained for two years, eventually getting fired by the bandleader in 1941 for allegedly throwing a spitball at Calloway (though trumpeter Jonah Jones later admitted to being the culprit). Dizzy subsequently freelanced in a number of situations, including bands led by Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet, and Duke Ellington, before joining Earl Hines' adventurous orchestra in 1942. (Gillespie wrote his most famous composition, "A Night in Tunisia," while employed by Hines).
After joining Billy Eckstine's bebop big band in 1943, Gillespie found himself playing alongside such future stars as Charlie Parker, Leo Parker, Art Blakey, Wardell Gray, Oscar Pettiford, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, and Sarah Vaughan. He recorded with Eckstine in 1944 and that year also participated in a seminal bebop session with tenor sax great Coleman Hawkins that included Dizzy's composition "Woody 'n You." In 1945, Gillespie teamed up with Charlie Parker (whom he often referred to as "my worthy constituent" or "the other half of my heartbeat") to revolutionize the jazz world with such rhythmically advanced numbers as "Groovin' High," "Shaw Nuff," and "Salt Peanuts," setting the tone for the bebop movement of the late '40s. Gillespie later put together a big band featuring Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo that pioneered the melding of jazz and Afro-Cuban music through such vehicles as "Manteca" and "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop." He had a few reunions with his former partner Charlie Parker, including the legendary 1953 Massey Hall concert in Toronto, Canada) and subsequently toured with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic revue, engaging in trumpet battles with various players, including his role model Roy Eldridge. Between 1956 and 1958, Gillespie functioned as a kind of international ambassador for jazz, traveling on several US State Department-sponsored tours to Europe, South America, and the Far East. These trips abroad whetted his appetite for music of other cultures, serving as a springboard for later investigations into world music.
Dizzy led several small groups through the '60s and in the '70s participated in a string recordings for Norman Granz's Pablo label, including 1975's The Trumpet Kings at Montreux with fellow trumpeters Clark Terry and Roy Eldridge. Though Dizzy's chops were diminished by the '80s, he continued playing and touring through the decade with his United Nations Orchestra featuring an international cast including Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, Cuban drummer Ignacio Berrora, Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi, Brazilian singer Flora Purim, Puerto Rico percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo, and Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez. His last two recordings, taken from a month-long engagement at New York's Blue Note jazz club in 1992, feature all-star lineups and various special guests and are titled To Bird with Love and To Diz with Love. He died a year later, on January 7, 1993, at his home in Englewood, New Jersey. (Milkowski)