he was known to be a bit of a clown in his heyday, but John Birks Gillespie has left a serious musical legacy. Bebop. Afro-Cuban. The United Nations Orchestra are but a few of the gems. There was his uptruned trumpet bell, now copied by adherents the world over. And who could forget those bubblegum cheeks.
At the Monterey Jazz Festival there is a venue called “Dizzy’s Den.” It’s named after the one and only Dizzy Gillespie, who would have been 93 years old today (October 21). Dizzy died in 1993 at age 75. But today Google did something delightful, a great doodle with Dizzy’s famous inflatable cheeks, puffing out as he played his trumpet with verve and gusto.
Google's delightful Dizzy doodle
John Birks Gillespie was born in 1917 in Cheraw, North Carolina. His father was a band leader and music was all around. He learnt to play piano at age four, and trombone and trumpet by age twelve. Music was fused into his being from a very early age. He made his first recording, “King Porter Stomp,” with the Ted Hill Band in the late 1930s. He went on to join Cab Calloway‘s band the “Cab Jivers”, but their relationship was sour, ending in a nasty little fight in which a knife “came into play” over a spitball thrown on stage. Calloway was a bit of a bully, it appears.
Dizzy looking as sweet as pie with a cartoon picture of his boss Cab
But that’s just a naughty piece of gossip. Let’s just state it plainly: Dizzy was one of the “kings of bebop.” No doubt about that.
One other nice fact: He met his wife Lorraine in 1940 and they were together until his death. Their only daugher, Jeanie Bryson, is a jazz singer and is currently working on a “Dizzy Gillespie Songbook” in honor of her Dad.