Dizzy Gillespie - trumpeter, vocals; Jon Faddis - trumpet; Al Gaffa - guitar; Michael Howell - guitar; Earl May - electric bass; Mickey Roker - drums; Paulinho Da Costa -- percussion
A legendary figure in the history of jazz, trumpeter and bebop pioneer John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was a player of unparalleled facility as well as a consummate entertainer and charismatic raconteur who brought joy to audiences all over the world. For this May 1975 performance at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, Dizzy is joined by his 21-year-old protégé, trumpeter Jon Faddis, along with guitarist-composer Al Gaffa, guitarist Michael Howell, the veteran rhythm tandem of bassist Earl May and drummer Mickey Roker and ubiquitous percussionist Paulinho Da Costa. Together they tackle a few Gillespie staples like "A Night in Tunisia," his jivey scat anthem "Oop-Pa-A-Da" and his ebullient Afro-Cuban classic, "Swing Low Sweet Cadillac," along with two Gaffa originals, one by pianist Mike Longo, a well chosen standard and one relatively obscure Dizzy gem, "Briother K."
They come out swinging hard on Gaff's "Pele," an uptempo burner named for Brazil's soccer superstar which appeared on Dizzy's 1975 Pablo release, Bahiana. Gaffa and Gillespie are in lockstep on the intricate, boppish head, spinning brisk unison lines. Gaffa's guitar solo is warm-toned and rhythmically assured while Dizzy follows with a typically extroverted trumpet solo that has him blowing fervently over the barlines while investigating the highest register of his horn. Next up, Gillespie makes a vocal appearance with a tender reading of the ballad "Something in Your Smile," the Leslie Brieusse-Anthony Newley tune from the 1967 movie Dr. Doolittle. They next deliver a churning Afro-Cuban version of "A Night in Tunisia," the Gillespie signature tune written in 1942 during his tenure with the Earl Hines big band and which later became a staple of his bebop quintet with alto sax legend Charlie Parker (whom Dizzy often referred to as 'the other half of my heartbeat."). Dizzy's trumpet work is especially potent on this classic number. Gaffa also contributes another flowing, warm-toned guitar solo on top of the swinging rhythm tandem of May and Roker. Dizzy's protégé Faddis joins in on this number, blowing some high note fusillades alongside his mentor at the tag.
Gaffa's gorgeous, Latin-tinged "Barcelona" (also from Bahia has Dizzy in a reflective mood on muted trumpet while Faddis unleashes streams of open horn virtuosity. Mike Longo's "Alligator" (from 1971's The Real Thing is a funky feature for some close horn harmonies between Gillespie and Faddis (the disciple nearly outdoes his mentor with his astounding chops on this chugging bit of '70s soul-jazz). "Brother K" is a relaxed, poignant tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King which originally appeared on the trumpeter's 1973 EmArcy album, The Giant. Faddis adds some bravura high-note playing over the energized Latin flavored before the tune returns to the more introspective head. "Oop-Pa-A- Da" is a burning uptempo scat singing spectacular originally written by Babs Gonzalez and popularized by a 1947 Gillespie recording with Kenny Hagood. Dizzy then leaves the stage to the strains of his theme song, "Birks Works," before being brought back for an encore. And he rewards this Great American Music Hall audience with a 15-minute rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac," his audacious African flavored take on the spiritual number "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which was also the title track of his 1967 Impulse album.
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 U.S. 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. - Bill Milkowski