John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie was a preeminent force in the development of modern Jazz but his persona and the ‘Dizzy’ legend extended well beyond the notes he played. For a number of reasons Dizzy was bigger than the music he lived for and this was no bad thing because all marginalized art-forms (as BeBop certainly was) needed someone like him. Dizzy played with great technical facility but more importantly he told a new and interesting story. He did this in part by making fun of the very underpinnings of the new music – an implied hi-brow intellectualism and a formidable technique.
He gently parodied the hip young Beatniks with their goatee beards and heavy-framed horn-rimmed glasses and became their hero in spite of it. Shops carrying ‘Dizzy Gillespie prescription-less horn-rimmed spectacles’ sold out in New York novelty shops and his bent-up trumpet bell and the accompanying story became part of the folk law of BeBop.
He was also be a relentless trickster and when playing as a sideman he was often in trouble over his antics. Later on he scripted some of that slap-stick humour into his own bands routine and even though it can look a little dated now, it was part of the ‘Dizzy’ experience. He wanted to make the music fun and yet profound; he succeeded in the in the best possible way.
Dizzy the man may have had some detractors but I have never heard of them. Louis Armstrong once complained that BeBop was ‘chinese music’ and ‘Miles’ objected to negro bands clowning around on the band stand as it was allegedly demeaning. Dizzy was too good-humoured to care about such niceties. His personality was larger than life and in filmed or recorded interviews a deeply tolerant and a likable man was revealed. He played with musical genius Charlie Parker for years and his attempts to steer Parker away from his self-destructive path eventually failed. For much of his life Dizzy was a member of the peace-loving ‘Baha’i’ Faith and later he was a United Nations World Wide Ambassador for Peace. It is obvious to me that this open-minded tolerance was a well-spring that was sourced deep within him. Watch him interviewed in ‘A Great Day Out in Harlem’.
In the Forties Dizzy played with the ‘Cab Callaway Band’ and it was while there he came into contact with Cuban and other Latin American musicians. He soon became the number one champion for Afro-Latin American Music and he is credited with setting the scene for that ever popular genre. ‘Manteca‘ was a big hit for his bands and it is still played today.
My absolute favourite recording of his is ‘Dizzy on the French Riviera‘ (1962). It is acknowledged as a work of genius but it scandalously languished in the vaults for nearly 40 years and was not put out as a CD until a year ago when ‘Verve’ re-issued it (only finding its way to New Zealand in recent months). Shame on ‘Phillips Records’ and their successors for their laggard behavior . A number of years ago we got sick of lamenting the lack of access to this joyful disk and so we took a well-worn ‘Mono’ LP version to a friend for de-clicking and digitizing. Those two back-up copies are now consigned to the bin because the cleaned-up ‘Stereo’ version by Verve is fabulous. They also corrected the miss-spelling of the name Lalo Schifrin from the mono LP cover. I know completist collectors who will now want both versions. I would urge everyone who loves 60’s Jazz to grab a copy before it vanishes again (‘Amazon’ has them at bargain prices and the US dollar is our friend now).
Pepito Riestria (percussion). The arranging on this album is masterful and the multi talented and soon to be famous Schifrin was a typical Dizzy Gillespie discovery. His often bluesy and time displacing chords can subtly and swiftly merge into a ‘clave’ and he is a real power-house in this band. Leo Wright is fabulous on both Alto and Flute and I dont know enough about his story to know why he was not heard more often. That he could be impassioned, Dolphy like and romantic on the one disc is impressive. I will include some information about Elek Bacsik as he is impressive also:
Bacsik was born in Budapest, the son of Arpad Bacsik and Erzsebet Pocsi. He was of Romani ethnicity and studied violin at the Budapest Conservatory, but found his primary musical inspiration in bebop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He was also the cousin of Django Reinhardt. In his early years he travelled as a musician to Lebanon, Spain, Portugal and Italy. He worked in Paris in the early 1960s and recorded with some well-known French musicians such as Jeanne Moreau, Serge Gainsbourg and Claude Nougaro as well as making solo albums. In 1966, he went to work and live in the United States and played at Las Vegas. Bacsik recorded on guitar on Gillespie’s Dizzy on the French Riviera (1962) and later on violin with Gillespie at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1974. His bebop violin playing is featured on his two albums as a leader, I Love You (1974) and Bird and Dizzy: A Musical Tribute (1975). – Wikipedia
The entire band is great and I love the happy sounds of children playing in the surf at Juan Les-Pins on the opening and closing tracks. It is somehow appropriate given Dizzy’s love of humanity. This is the well-loved Antonio Carlos Jobim song ‘No More Blues’ (Chega de Saudade). I have also included a later version of the song with James Moody and Kenny Barron replacing Wright and Schifrin.