Dizzy Gillespie

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About Dizzy Gillespie

Trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a crucial figure in the advent of bebop in the 1940s, playing alongside Charlie Parker as they pivoted from the swing era toward a small jazz group built around breakneck tempos and technically demanding improvisations. Born in 1917 in Cheraw, North Carolina, Gillespie was already a strong musician when his family moved to Philadelphia in 1935. He went on to play in bands led by Teddy Hill, Cab Calloway, and Billy Eckstine, reconnecting with Parker in the final band and sparking a revolution. During the 1940s he alternated between leading his own big band and playing in smaller settings with Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, and Milt Jackson, among others. In the late 1940s he helped develop a high-energy Cuban jazz fusion, working with percussionist Chano Pozo and arranger Mario Bauzá. Gillespie’s humorously avuncular presence, bent trumpet, and blown-out cheeks elevated him to jazz royalty by the 1950s, where he continued to switch between small combos and big bands. In 1988 he formed the United Nation Orchestra, embracing and promoting the global spread of jazz. His achievements retain their mix of technical ferocity and ebullient humanity. He died from pancreatic cancer in 1993, aged 75.

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