JAZZ / Bebop's fiery genius

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The Independent Culture
Just because Dizzy Gillespie had a sense of humour and a willingness to turn up for work on time doesn't mean that he wasn't a serious musician. Gillespie, who died in a New Jersey hospital on Wednesday, aged 75, was, in fact, among the dozen most significant figures in the history of jazz. The tendency to assume that Charlie Parker gave modern jazz its soul and creativity while Gillespie gave it goatee beards and funny hats and a silly name is a grievous distortion of the trumpeter's contribution. Gillespie called Parker 'the other half of my heartbeat', and various location recordings from the late Forties and early Fifties - Birdland, Carnegie Hall, Massey Hall in Toronto - preserve the evidence of a relationship that brought the authentic genius out of both. Most of us, too, have only recordings to tell us that Gillespie's big band of 1947-48 was, until it fell victim to commercial logic, the most exciting unit of its kind ever assembled, blending the intellectual rigour and technical fireworks of bebop with the kinetic energy of the swing bands and the polyrhythmic momentum of the Afro-Cuban music which the leader had taken to his heart. But Dizzy Gillespie was no tortured genius. He had a fiery temperament, but he loved to have fun, and he was reliable. So he toured the world on behalf of the State Department and was befriended by presidents. Like his great predecessor Louis Armstrong, he was the finest ambassador the music could have had, an artist of the highest calibre who preferred to face a sometimes uncomprehending world with a smile.

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