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Happy Birthday, Dizzy Gillespie!

dizzy gillespie-1.jpgLike many a youth whose childhood does not provide the unconditional love they expect from a parent, in this case his father, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie took to getting into trouble and often found himself fighting his peers to tame his anger within. The youngest of nine children in Cheraw, South Carolina, Dizzy first learned to play the piano at the early age of four. Enter a trumpet given to him by a teacher and let's just say that he believed that he had truly found his calling. As a teen, Dizzy was employed in several orchestras, including Cab Calloway's, where his lighthearted and unconventional personality was met with shock from such older and staid musicians. Nevertheless, the name "Dizzy" stuck, as did his penchant for the eccentric. 

From that point on, Dizzy became heavily involved in Bebop music, Jazz's often-spurned cousin in those days, then migrated over to Afro-Cuban Jazz. As one of its founders, Dizzy became as well-known for Afro-Cuban compositions such  "Tin Tin Deo," as well as his Bebop classic "Salt Peanuts." His plethora of amazing compositions aside and collaborations with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, Dizzy was most known for his overly inflated cheeks when he played his trumpet, infectious personality, and megawatt smile. According to his cousin and drummer Phil Gillespie, Dizzy was the always the consummate jokester and "his facial expressions and his laugh were great."

For those of us too young to have experienced Dizzy in his youth, he came to us, whether it be appearances on The Muppet Show or The Cosby Show, to make sure we knew just how important laughter and music were in our lives. On this day which would have been his 101st birthday, let's smile a little bit harder and laugh a little bit louder for Dizzy. He would have wanted it that way. Below is a performance of Dizzy's classic "A Night In Tunisia."


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  • Happy Birthday, Dizzy! My pops introduced me to his music when I was young and I'm still searching out his great work. One of the main reasons I love jazz to this day.

  • Happy B-day Dizzy! I can relate Krush. The first jazz concert that I ever seen live was a Dizzy concert. My dad took me and I remember leaving the concert a changed young man. I didn't really care for jazz at the time. I was young and a little knucklehead..lol. After the performance, it opened my ears a little more and it made me seek out the music of not only Dizzy but many of the jazz greats from Coltrane, Miles, Bird, etc.. Dizzy was an amazing live performer & entertainer. I remember him cracking a lot of jokes.

  • PhireMadeFlesh

    A belated Happy birthday, Dizz!!! Big ups SC!!! That home state love. We miss ya.

  • hoodedmonk

    My Hero.
    Its so important to put the truly great artists of the past in different perspectives so that we can get the full effect of what they STILL DO.
    Ask ourselves ......Self? How old is Dizzy in that picture above? 20-ish? 30-ish? We can't get stuck on how they look like GranDad or Dad. THEY LOOK like us NOW. they created these great musical concepts when they were our age. I respect Dizz for his style he carried throughout his life. But I am in AWE of what he did when he was a young adult.
    ALSO YOU GOTTA WATCH THE WHOLE CLIP!!! See how Dizz opens up the cadenza at the end for "young lion " Jon Faddis? The man taught about human nature and love thru unselfish showmanship AND sonic genius.

  • PBG

    I feel good seeing this post. This musical genius was a relative of mine...my beloved Big Mama's (RIP) cousin. I met him only once in my life, back in '87 when I was 14. When I told him where my fam was from (Cheraw, SC) and who my grandma was, he picked me up and spun me around, tickling me and calling me "little cuz". It was a wonderful once in a lifetime experience.



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