Trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (1917-1993) was one of the greatest jazz artists of all time. He is one of the fathers of bebop, modern jazz, and a godfather of Latin jazz.
Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were pivotal figures in the development of bebop or modern jazz in the 1940s. Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem was a legendary bebop hangout. The original room is still a jazz club.
John Birks Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina on October 21, 1917.
Dizzy Gillespie Brought Latin Back into Jazz
Gillespie also played an important role in the development of Latin jazz.
Mario Bauzá (1911-1993) was a classically-trained Cuban musician and arranger working in New York City. In the 1930’s Bauzá was lead trumpeter and musical director of Chick Webb’s Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom. Chick Webb led one of the best Swing bands there ever was. That is where Bauzá first met the young Dizzy Gillespie. Later Bauzá brought Gillespie into Cab Calloway’s band.
In 1941, Bauzá put together the band Machito and his Afro-Cubans. They were the first band to actually promote the fact that they were black. In 1942, they added a young timbalero named Tito Puente. In 1943, Bauzá and the band spontaneously composed Tanga, which is now considered the first Latin Jazz song. It put clave (Afro-Cuban rhythm) into Jazz, and brought Jazz solos into latin music.
52nd Street used to be a street of jazz clubs. The Palladium Ballroom on 53rd and Broadway was the home of latin music. Jazz players would sit in at the Palladium and latin players would sit in with the jazz cats on 52nd street.
Dizzy liked what he was hearing so he asked Bauzá for a conga player. In 1947 Bauzá introduced Chano Pozo to Dizzy. In less than a year, those two co-wrote the Gillespie classics “Manteca” and “Tin Tin Deo.”
Latin and jazz blended together so well that now it seems like they’ve always been together. Actually they have, but that’s another story. Anyway it was Dizzy’s ear that brought latin percussion into mainstream jazz.
When Dizzy passed away, his longtime bassist John Lee got the naming rights and leads the various Dizzy Gillespie orchestras.