According to Lorraine, his wife of more than half a century, Gillespie died peacefully in his sleep, at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey where he had been under treatment for pancreatic cancer for the last month. In the background played a recording of 'Dizzy's Dime', a family spokesman said.
Gillespie, born John Birks Gillespie in 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina, was almost the last surviving representative of a veritable golden age of jazz. His contemporaries included such legendary figures as Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
But none, arguably, had a greater influence on their uniquely American art form, and none certainly was a more perfect physical embodiment of it. With his trademark goatee beard and beret, puffed-out cheeks and trumpet bell jutting skyward, he looked every inch a jazz musician - and only a jazz musician.
Until illness forced him to cancel many engagements, Gillespie practised his trade as vigorously late in life as he had in his prime, performing around the world, training young musicians, and fronting a big band called the United Nations Orchestra. He was playing up to 300 nights a year well into his seventies.
On at least two occasions Gillespie was a pioneer in the development of jazz: first in the invention of jagged, rebellious be-bop; and more recently when he worked with Cuban musicians to create an 'Afro-Latin' style, highlighted by his celebrated recording Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods in 1975.
Even in his lifetime, his achievement was universally acclaimed. Gillespie received countless awards and was the guest of presidents. Once, in 1978, he persuaded Jimmy Carter to sing along live on television with one of his tunes, 'Salt Peanuts', during a visit to the White House to mark the 25th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.
A leading critic once called him 'one of the most creative musicians of the 20th century', while Woody Herman ranked him, together with Louis Armstrong, as one of the two most influential jazzmen of all time.
'I'll never stop playing,' Gillespie once said. He was almost as good as his word.
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