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Hardcover Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie Book

ISBN: 0688170889

ISBN13: 9780688170882

Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie

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Format: Hardcover

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Book Overview

Dizzy Gillespie has secured his place in the jazz pantheon as one of the most expressive and virtuosic improvisers in the history of music. But he was much more than that. As one of the primary creators of the bebop and Afro-Cuban revolutions, he twice fundamentally changed the way jazz improvisation was done. And he later extended his revolutionary reach by transforming the aesthetic of big band jazz. This vivid biography chronicles Dizzy's saga...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Short on analysis but fairly comprehensive chronicle of Diz' main gig: his life.

Dizzy was, above all, a master "player," probably the best the music has known. It came through in his clowning, his escapades, his dress, his eating, his resilience, his take-it-as-it-comes spirit, and his music--he approached the language of jazz as a writer like Shakespeare or James Joyce approaches the English language. It's about hard work, discipline and mastery, but it's equally about serendipity, playfulness and fun. I discovered jazz around the time of "Kind of Blue," and as a result Miles Davis, Coltrane and Bill Evans, along with the putatively more authentic "Blue Note sound," ruled for the next 30-35 years (I know of some jazz followers who still will listen to nothing but Blue Note and Van Gelder-engineered sessions--hence, rule out Bird, Diz, Stitt, Oscar, Getz, Brubeck, Louis, and Duke--thank goodness that very little of Bill Evans' piano sound was "doctored" by Blue Note). It didn't help that on the half-dozen occasions on which I heard Diz, he really wasn't all that impressive--limiting his solo time, traveling with electric bass players and guitarists, carrying a female vocalist of questionable ability, repeating the same gags, exhibiting nothing like the full, wide-range trumpet sound of the few recordings I'd heard by him from the late 1940s and 1950s. But after revaluation and going back and listening carefully to the recorded evidence, I've become a believer. Miles was the marquee performer commanding mega bucks for each of his appearances, or "dramatic events": Dizzy may have been playing the low-rent jobs in small clubs, colleges and community concert series, occasionally even making "rock n roll" recordings that made Miles' worst fusion efforts sound like the masterpieces his legions claimed on their behalf. But with the dust finally settling, it's become clear that Diz was the genius, the American Master, the other half of Charlie Parker's heart-beat. It's gratifying to see that he's getting some of the respect he deserves--through his autobiography, the Burns television series, and most recently Maggin's biography. The book is fat (in keeping with the eventful life of its deceptively fast-moving subject) but moves quickly (Diz, more than any other soloist, made fast tempos a way of playing). Keeping up with Dizzy's travels is a challenge even for a reader, but Maggin, with the help of interviewees like Mike Longo, constructs a coherent timeline. He also brings out the significance of Norman Granz and of Verve records--though I wish he had done more to explore the role of Verve in keeping alive a complex musical language that had been reduced to commercial electronica at Columbia, endless variations on the same modal scales at Impulse, and formulaic funk at Blue Note records. The book could also use more attention to what the man left behind. The absence of a discography makes it easy to miss let alone locate, for example, the first and only LP (10") made by Gillespie and Parker, a supposedly more acce

It was the women in his life

Dizzy Gillespie was truly blessed. Not only with an amazing talent and the ability that allowed him to grasp and expand on the concepts of harmony and rhythm, but by the women in his life who made his success possible. It began with his mother, who after the death of Dizzy's abusive dad when the boy was only 9, worked long, hard hours as a seamstress, laundress, and house cleaner to provide for her children. Then there was Dizzy's third grade teacher who realized he had special talent and encouraged his musicality and eventually recruited him for the school band. Next it was a student nurse at the Laurinberg Institute, who lobbied for his admission to the Institute that was noted for its two commercial bands and where Dizzy got a first-class musical education. There was the daughter of the Institute's owners who, in her free time, taught Dizzy the intricacies of the piano. This became an important instrument to Dizzy's success, as he was now able to work out new and challenging harmonies at the keyboard. And further, because of his ability to play piano and read music, he was one of the few be-boppers of his generation who was able to chart the music they were creating, without which much of the music probably would not have survived. Finally came sweet Lorraine, whom Dizzy met in 1937 at a time when he was only able to obtain occasional band work. After their meeting, Dizzy hit financial bottom, and when Lorraine discovered him begging for money for food, she began to help him. Soon they moved in together and were married within three years, and until the end of his life, 53 years later, she provided support and financial stability. Dizzy was a spendthrift who would have kept the family broke if Lorraine had not stepped in and taken over the finances of both Dizzy and his bands. And Dizzy was constantly surrounded by addictive and illegal substances that Lorraine kept at bay. Author Maggin follows Dizzy's life as he progresses from swing music to the small cadre of instrumentalists who created the new form of jazz, be bop. This modernistic approach to jazz was first derided by critics and audiences alike, but eventually, as listeners became accustomed to the somewhat cacophonic sound, be bop supplanted swing in popularity. To this new creation, Dizzy added Afro-Cuban sounds to start another musical revolution. Some of Dizzy's contemporaries took the music even further with fusion and free styles, but in 1949, Dizzy began to realize that his music had gone too far when he bemoaned, "The trouble with bop as it is played today is that people can't dance to it," and he reigned in his horn to earn acclaim and wealth for the rest of his life. Maggin does a superb job of explaining the intricate changes from swing to be bop to Afro-Cuban as he relates the development of this new music. He gives us interesting comments along with mini-bios on the musicians involved, many of them superstars, who worked in and around Dizzy's big bands a

Solid, But No Surprises

Obviously, the two books to compare this work with are Dizzy's own 1979 "To Be or Not to Bop" and Alyn Shipton's 1999 "Groovin' High." Dizzy's book was a disjointed, subjective, sometimes annoying, but deeply insightful oral history. Shipton's book was a straightforward bio that attempted to avoid the "he recorded this, then he recorded that" syndrome by alternating chronological chapters with evaluations of the recordings available from each period in the previous chapter. A good idea, but a lack of specific enough information as to recording dates, locations and labels defeated the purpose. You won't miss anything if you choose either Maggin's or Shipton's book. Shipton covers the pre-bop/pre WW II period more, while Maggin gives a deeper discussion of Dizzy's incredibly fertile late 50's and early 60's period. If you are not one hundred percent sure what bop is, or why Charlie Parker or Theloneous Monk are so important, Maggin's book is better, because he breaks the story to explain these points without being patronizing. He does start to dip into the "recorded this, recorded that" syndrome in the latter decades of Dizzy's life, but it doesn't get really bad. Overall, Maggin's book reads a little smoother, a little better. What surprises me the most is that during the six years between Shipton's and Maggin's book, absolutely nothing new seems to have come out, not even in the ongoing legal dispute over royalties between Dizzy's widow Lorraine and jazz vocalist Jeanne Bryson, who claims to be his daughter by another woman. (Both Shipton and Maggin conclude that more probably than not, she is.) In any case, read either Shipton's book or Maggin's. Then, once you know the basic whos, whats, wheres and whens, beg, borrow or let yourself get ripped off for a used copy of Diz's own autobiography, which is where the REAL fun is!

Best Book on Birks

This is by far the most revealing (because best researched), most fascinating, and best written biography about Dizzy Gillespie and his times yet available. Uniquely informative musical explanations of Dizzy's contribitions to be-bop and his use of Afro-Cuban elements in jazz, propelling that music from the Swing Era into jazz of today and tomorrow. Also presents the social and historical context of Dizzy's story, from cotton picking in Cheraw,SC to world renown and jazz immortality. Only thing not explained, because it's unexplainable: how and why he was gifted with and then powerfully developed such prodigious talent -- the Mozart of jazz!
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