Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet
George Shearing - piano
Rodney Jones - guitar
Ben Brown - electric bass
Mickey Roker - drums
Kermit Scott - tenor sax
A larger than life figure both on and off the stage, trumpeter, composer, bandleader, and raconteur Dizzy Gillespie was in fine form for this 1978 appearance at the Great American Music Hall. Accompanied by a stellar crew including young guitarist Rodney Jones, bassist Ben Brown, drummer Mickey Roker and special guest pianist George Shearing (a jazz legend in his own right), Gillespie provided plenty of pyrotechnics on his trumpet along with a few laughs with his between songs banter with the GAMH crowd.
Opening on a funky note with an unnamed boogaloo with allusions to Quincy Jones' "Theme to Sanford and Son," Dizzy flexes his fabled high-note chops right out of the gate. Bassist Brown follows with a facile solo on electric bass, capturing a fusiony, Stanley Clarke-ish vibe over the course of several choruses. Next up is Al Gafa's poignant "Barcelona," a tender number reminiscent of Bronislau Kaper's haunting "On Green Dolphin Street," which Dizzy plays with a mute in his trumpet. Midway through the tune, Gillespie removes the mute and blows with full force into the stratosphere on his famous upturned instrument.
The group next tackles the Dizzy staple "A Night in Tunisia," the popular tune he composed in 1942 during his stint with the Earl Hines big band. Bassist Ben Brown is prominently featured on this rhythmic classic, which is a seminal work in Dizzy's Afro-Cuban oeuvre. Next is a lovely ballad "The Brother K," dedicated to Martin Luther King. Gillespie plays with tasty restraint and lyricism on this muted trumpet feature. Midway through, the piece shifts into uptempo mode. Coming in and out of that double time section, pianist Shearing delivers a superb solo that remains elegant while burning. Jones contributes a facile guitar solo here that will invite comparisons to George Benson's fretboard pyrotechnics. And Gillespie follows with a bracing high note solo over a Latin flavored vamp before returning to the alluring ballad section.
"Unicorn" is a funky Lalo Schifrin number originally recorded in 1977 for the sadly commercial and mainly forgettable Pablo album Free Ride, which wasn't released until 1981. Jones' rhythmic comping fuels the track alongside Brown's popping bass lines and Roker's syncopated backbeat. And Dizzy is his own inimitable self, blowing with dazzling virtuosity over this simple vamp number while nonchalantly dropping in quotes from Duke Ellington's "Caravan" along the way. Shearing also turns in an admirable Erroll Garner-influenced piano solo on this funk-laden confection. Gillespie then turns in a brilliant muted trumpet performance on the jazz standard "Autumn Leaves." Shearing is once again stellar on his locked-hands piano solo, and special guest Kermit Scott contributes a potent tenor sax solo on this swinging rendition. For the rousing closer, Gillespie's Afro-Cuban anthem "Manteca," the leader engages drummer Roker in some spirited call-and-response at the outset before launching into the catchy motif. Shearing's piano solo is spectacular here, capturing the spirit of the son montuno in the hypnotic middle passage. Dizzy contributes some churning conga work on this rhythmically charged number, and drummer Roker is turned loose at the end to erupt on his kit in exhilarating fashion. And the leader wraps it up with a few signature stratospheric trumpet blasts to culminate this GAMH set.
A bona fide jazz star and bebop pioneer, Gillespie created history on 52nd Street in the mid-1940s with his erstwhile partner, alto sax legend Charlie Parker, whom Dizzy often referred to as "the other half of my heartbeat." He remained a player of unparalleled virtuosity through the '50s, '60s and '70s and remained active on the scene as a bandleader and revered figure in jazz through the '80s and into the early '90s.
Born on October 21, 1917, in Cheraw, South Carolina, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie began his musical journey on trombone before switching to trumpet at age 12. Inspired by the exuberant Swing Era trumpeter Roy Eldridge, he began playing professionally at age 18, breaking into the business with the Frankie Fairfax Band based in Philadelphia. In 1937, he 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 remained for two years, eventually getting fired in 1941 for allegedly throwing a spitball at the bandleader (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 jazz 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 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 of 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)