Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dizzy Gillespie and the birth of bebop, by Leslie Gourse

(hb; 1994: biography)

From the inside flap:

"In the fifth grade Dizzy volunteered to play in the school band. He was the youngest, smallest child to volunteer, and he was also the last to arrive in the instrument room. All that was left for him was a slide trombone. Nobody else wanted it. Far from being disappointed, Dizzy grabbed it, eager to make music, though he switched to trumpet soon after.

"The enthusiasm with which Dizzy grabbed that first instrument remained with him for the rest of his life. His passion for music was so great that it carried him through many lean years to later legendary success. He charted new territory into jazz, expanding the musical vocabulary of our time. He created music of dazzling rhythmic complexity and enriched it with new harmonic color, inspiring other musicians to challenge their limits, and winning recognition for jazz as a true American art form.

"... Leslie Gourse examines the life of this musical giant. Beginning in the instrument room in South Carolina, she traces the life of John Birks Gillespie, focusing on his musical development and the personal relationships and bonds he formed within the music world. Gourse illustrates Dizzy's lifelong commitment to the development of progressive music and his contribution to the birth of the style called bebop."


Gourse's writing is as lively as Gillepsie's often-effervescent personality and musical works, giving Gillespie more than a fair biographical shake. Gillespie's life story is indeed one of inspiration, from his longtime -- fifty-year -- marriage to level-headed Lorraine, to his dedication to his music (he was often poor, but working), to his friendships, some of them musical and legendary (e.g., Charlie "Bird" Parker, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk).

This is a great biography, modest, intriguing and effective, like its subject. Well worth your time, even if you're not a jazz afficionado -- sounds like the man oozed creativity and goodwill, and that's rarely a bad thing.

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