October 21, 2015

Happy Birthday Diz

One of the true jazz pioneers, John Birks Gillespie, was born on this day, October 21, in 1917. John became “Dizzy” along the way, reportedly because of his outsized humor and tendency for onstage antics. Dizzy Gillespie is on any jazz historian’s list of the top 10 most important jazz innovators. Along with Charlie Parker he ushered the new style of jazz coined bebop in the late 40s. Soon after, his incorporation of Cuban rhythms and Cuban musicians into his bands assured his place in jazz history not only as an astounding instrumentalist, but as a composer and stylistic innovator. Dizzy spread jazz to every corner of the world, carrying on the Ambassador of Jazz mantle that Louis Armstrong had owned for many years.
Even people who know little about jazz will recognize Dizzy for two trademark images: his trumpet with the upturned bell, and the cheeks. Over the years, Dizzy’s muscles in his cheeks and neck gave way and he seemed delighted to use this physical trait to help endear fans to him.

Photo by Milt Hinton
We saw Dizzy Gillespie live one time. In the late 80s he performed in an outdoor venue in a Syracuse, NY park. With thousands in attendance, the mayor of Syracuse stepped to the microphone and declared it “Dizzy Gillespie Day” in Syracuse, and Dizzy was handed a ceremonial key to the city. He stepped to the microphone, and in that distinguished but gravely voice declared loudly, “no shit!”

Happy 98th birthday, Dizzy!

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