John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie was one of the all time great American jazz trumpeters, as well as a bandleader, composer, singer and hep cat.
Dizzy played a very distinctive horn that bent upwards at 45 degrees. Legend has it that his trumpet got bent accidentally by dancers Stomp and Stompy at a party.
Dizzy decided he liked the altered tone of this trumpet so much that he kept it, and it became one of his visual trademarks. The other was his cheeks!
In the 1940s, along with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, Dizzy developed Be Bop – the sound of modern jazz – known for its fast tempo and complex chord progressions.
Dizzy had great pride in his African American heritage and a love of music with deep African roots. He was the founding father of Afro Cuban jazz, working with musicians such as Mario Bauza, Chano Pozo and Mongo Santamaria.
Some of his best known tunes such as Manteca and Night in Tunisia were based on Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Despite being known for his on and off stage clowning, Dizzy became a musical ambassador, touring Africa, the Middle East and Latin America sponsored by the US State department.
In 1964 Dizzy ran for President of the United States of America, and pledged to rename the White House, ‘the Blues House’ and appoint all the great jazz musicians including Duke Ellington as Secretary of State and Miles Davis as the Director of the CIA!
Though he was never elected into office, Dizzy will be forever known as one of the fathers of Bebop and, 100 years after his birth, he is still regarded as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters in history.