Gillespie, Dizzy [John Birks ]
- Jeffery S. McMillan
[John Birks ]
(b Cheraw, SC, Oct 21, 1917; d Englewood, NJ, Jan 6, 1993). American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, singer, and composer. He was one of the principal innovators in jazz, who along with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Kenny Clarke, pioneered the harmonic and rhythmic advances of the early 1940s that became known as bebop. His exceptional talent for playing higher, faster, and more accurately than anyone who preceded him set a new standard for jazz musicians and his style of playing was widely imitated, especially by trumpeters. Gillespie wrote such early bebop compositions as “Woody ’n’ You,” “Groovin’ High,” and “Salt Peanuts,” and his most enduring piece, “A Night in Tunisia,” is one of the most frequently recorded in jazz. His career spanned almost six decades, and it is difficult to overstate his impact as one of the most influential musicians in jazz history.
Gillespie was born the youngest of nine children to a poor, rural Southern family. His father was a bricklayer who also played various musical instruments with groups on the weekends, but died from an asthma attack when Gillespie was ten. Gillespie was given a trombone at school and taught himself to play it even though he was too small to reach fifth position. After a neighbor received a trumpet, Gillespie visited the house repeatedly to play it until he was allowed to exchange his trombone for a trumpet. He performed locally at rent parties and school dances and his ability allowed him to attend Laurinberg Technical Institute in nearby North Carolina on a music scholarship. Although he received little formal instruction, he practiced trumpet and piano incessantly, and taught himself basic theory. In ...