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Dizzy Gillespie Biography

Home > Music > G > Gillespie, Dizzy > Biography

Birth Name: John Birks Gillespie
Born: 1917/10/21
Birth Place: Cheraw, South Carolina, U.S.
Died: 1993/01/06
Years Active: 1935-1993
Genres: Bebop, Afro-Cuban Jazz

John Birks Gillespie was born on October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina and was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and singer. Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and prominent figure in the jazz world of music. Gillespie popularized bebop music with his distinctive style of playing, his beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, and his scat singing. During the 1940s Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, were pioneers in development of bebop and paved the way for modern jazz musicians. Gillespie's influences extended to artists such as Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Chuck Mangione. Gillespie was no stranger to music and grew up with a father who was also a band leader.

James Gillespie encouraged his son to play the piano at the tender age of four. When Gillespie's father passed away he was just ten years old and was devastated; his father had been his greatest musical influence to date. Gillespie went on to teach himself how to play the trombone and the trumpet by the time he was twelve. Gillespie cites Roy Eldridge as his inspiration and musical mentor; after hearing him play on night on the radio, Gillespie swore he would become a jazz musician someday.

Gillespie got his start in the music industry in 1935, playing in the Frank Fairfax Orchestra. He went on to play with Edgar Hayes and Teddy Hill, essentially replacing his idol Roy Eldridge as first trumpet in 1937. It was during this time that Gillespie made his first recording, “King Porter Stomp.” 1939 saw Gillespie join the Cab Calloway's orchestra, however, Gillespie was fired by Calloway 1941, after an altercation between the two. Around this time the sound of bebop began to infiltrate traditional jazz music and became known as modern jazz style. However, bebop was unpopular with jazz audiences and considered an outgrowth of swing. Musicians like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Gillespie began to embrace bebop, putting their own unique twist on the sound. Gillespie's compositions, such as “Groovin' High,” “Woody n' You” and “Salt Peanuts” sounded different from both the popular swing music of the time and traditional old school jazz. Gillespie's 1942 piece, “A Night in Tunisia” displayed a non-walking bass line and Afro-Cuban rhythms, which gave Gillespie's music a distinct sound all of its own.

Gillespie not only performed in various bands throughout his career, he also taught up-an-coming young musicians, including Miles Davis, how to play this new style of jazz. In the late 1940s, Gillespie was involved in a movement called 'Afro-Cuban music,' which brought elements of Afro-Latin American music to jazz; Afro-Cuban jazz grew out of this. In 1947, Gillespie met Latin jazz trumpet player, Chano Pozo, who significantly influenced Gillespie's music. Pozo became Gillespie's conga drummer for his band. Gillespie's most famous contributions to Afro-Cuban music are the compositions “Manteca” and “Tin Deo.” In 1977, Gillespie discovered Arturo Sandoval while on a tour of Cuba, the two became friends and Gillespie helped advance Sandoval's career in the U.S. Gillespie continued to perform throughout the 1980s and 1990s; mostly collaborating with other artists and giving live performances before his death from pancreatic cancer on January 6, 1993, aged 75.