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Dizzy Gillespie

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It wasn’t until 1944 that the mainstream public started to hear this new style through its first recordings. Parker cut records – so did Gillespie, Monk and the others. What the public heard was more than a little puzzling to their more traditional ears. Unusual chords – were they wrong? Uneven beats – was the drummer lost? And the soloist up on top – sure he could play a lot of notes, but were any of them right? And what was this about hearing bits and pieces of opera themes and other pop songs in the middle of these long solos – what was that all about?

Dizzy Gillespie, 1947

Most discarded it as noise; some found it puzzling.  Quite a few thought it offensive, but between its first recordings and 1950, bop grew modestly in popularity. When it became understood that this was “listening” and “thinking” music, as compared to the “dancing” music of big band jazz, the artists and their efforts gained a solid following and a permanent place in the evolution of jazz history.

As with many revolutions, the purity of the theory is often muddied by the realities of life. In the second half of the bop era (1940-1950) personalities emerge from the philosophy of pure jazz to dominate the spotlight and redirect the flow of evolution.

Bop trumpet legend John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, like Armstrong before him, had reveled in the attention he was getting as a jazz celebrity and played to it, wearing a French beret hat, sunglasses, and trimming his goatee to just a patch under his bottom lip. Soon, fans were following their idol, wearing berets and sunglasses and growing similar bottom lip patches. The era of hip and cool was born. Magazine and newspaper ads showed pictures of Dizzy Gillespie decked in his sharp attire, and offered prospective beatniks the “accoutrements of hip” for a nominal price.

Gillespie savored the attention and, on behalf of the U.S. State Department became America’s Ambassador of Bop, traveling the world promoting the new sounds of jazz. Returning from his appearances in Cuba, Gillespie brought back Cuban musicians like Chano Pozo, and Cuban instruments which he incorporated into his new band to create the the first flow of Latin rhythm in American jazz music. Some termed the style “cubop” (cue`bop). Gillespie was building legitimacy for bop, but some would say, at the expense of its purity.

Gillespie’s bands fluctuated in size from ’47 on. When he could afford it, and funding from the State Department made it possible, Gillespie pulled a big band together as backup for his bop solos. When necessary, he went back to the quartets and quintets that Parker tended to prefer.

Charlie “Bird” Parker was so heavily addicted to alcohol and heroin that he signed over half his future royalties to a disabled shoe-shine drug dealer for the guarantee of an unlimited supply of heroine. In 1946, while in a drug and alcohol induced stupor, Parker was arrested for public indecent exposure (he wandered out from his hotel twice dressed only with his socks), suspected arson (he fell asleep smoking and set his bed and the hotel room on fire), and public drunkenness. He was ordered to spend six months as a ward of the Camarillo State Hospital in California. Later, Parker would write a tune, “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” in commemoration of this time in his life.

Upon release from the hospital, in early 1947, Parker became distressed by the path of commercialism that Gillespie and some of the others had taken.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

Parker was one of those who objected to the “pop bop” which Gillespie was spinning. Choosing a different path, Parker eschewed Gillespie’s larger ensemble for the more authentic sound of a small combo. From ’47 to ’51 the small combo, which often included a young trumpet player by the name of Miles Davis, was the setting for most of Parker’s mature recordings.

In 1951, the New York city narcotics squad pressured city officials to revoke Parker’s cabaret license, which had allowed him to earn a respectable living performing in clubs in the city. Sporadic employment, increasing debts, failing health, an increase in drug and alcohol usage, as well as two failed suicide attempts caused him to voluntarily commit himself to Bellevue Hospital in 1954. In March of 1955, Charlie “Bird” Parker, the “Father of Bop” gained release from the hospital in order to play his last public performance at Birdland, a nightclub named in his honor. He died in an apartment in Manhattan owned by his longtime friend, Baroness Koenigswarter, seven days later.

The parallels of Gillespie and Armstrong are many. Both were superb technicians of the horn and musical artists. Both helped pioneer a new level of improvisational jazz. Both took strong public stands against racism. Both were given the status of “Ambassadors” of American music and traveled on behalf of the State Department. Both remained congenial characters who loved performing well into their seventies. Both had winsome personalities and were wonderful showmen.

And both were known for their sense of humor. In 1980 Gillespie threatened to run for the presidency. If elected, he said, he would rename the White House the Blues House and name Miles Davis as head of the CIA. When someone accidentally fell on Dizzy’s trumpet in 1953 and bent the trumpet bell up, Gillespie decided to adopt the resulting malformation and had other trumpets made specifically with a tilted bell. “I can hear the sound sooner,” he rationalized. Whether it was true or not, Gillespie’s bent horn and highly expanded cheeks and neck while blowing it, became his unique trademark.

John “Dizzy” Gillespie, pioneer and legitimizer of bop, died in 1993.

Dizzy Gillespie, “Salt Peanuts”, c. 1970s

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Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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