The musical talented jazz trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie had a long and distinguished music career. He was a composer, bandleader and the best trumpeter of all times. Gillespie’s career spanned from the 1930s to the 1980s. He was best known for playing in the big band swing era of the 30’s, bebop 40’s and the Afro-Cuban jazz of the 50s. Gillespie was born in 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina. He was the youngest of nine children to James and Lottie Gillespie.
Gillespie is one of the most influential musicians in the history of jazz, and is considered one of the founders of modern jazz, and with Charlie Parker is credited with the invention of bebop. His father was a bricklayer and part-time musician, he began playing the piano at the young age of 4. He won a scholarship to North Carolina’s Laurinburg Institute, where he practiced the piano and trumpet. He left school and joined his family in Philadelphia, he then moved on to New York, where he made his first recording by the age of 20.
He played the trumpet in the Teddy Hill Band, and toured in Great Britain and France. He joined the Cab Calloway Orchestra in 1939. However, after an altercation with Calloway he was fired. He also played with the big bands and music legends such as Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, and Duke Ellington, and became the musical director of Billy Eckstine’s band in 1944.
Gillespie met and married his wife Lorraine in 1940. They stayed together until his death. Gillespie and Charlie Parker (on saxophone) started playing together in the 1940s in New York clubs, developing a fast, complex, and improvisational style that came to be known as bebop. Gillespie and Parker were both in the famous recorded 1954 concert “Jazz at Massey Hall,” with Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach.
By the late 1940s, was leading a band that had combined Latin music with the bebop, and it was taking the nation by storm. Gillespie was the first jazz musician to give a major role in his music to an Afro-Cuban sound, and fuse Brazilian and other Caribbean as well as Afro-Cuban influences with jazz.
Later years, Gillespie became an American ambassador of music, he led the State department-sponsored tours to Latin America and the Middle East, and he even played a snake charmer in Pakistan.
Dizzy Gillespie was the typical “hip” bebop musician. His trademark look was dark glasses, black beret, and goatee. He also was noted for his distinctive trumpet, with the bell turned upwards. In 1953 his trumpet became accidentally bent when someone fell on it; he liked the sound, and afterwards continued to play with a bent-up instrument, which became his visual trademark.
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