December 1990

Dizzy Gillespie

Musician

Dizzy Gillespie

Mention the name Dizzy Gillespie and the image of the musician playing the trumpet with his cheeks puffed up with air comes to mind. No doubt some music instructor at some time tried to get him to change his style, but Gillespie persisted and did it his own way. Throughout an illustrious career, which is in its sixth decade, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie has distinguished himself as a truly immortal figure in the history of America’s “classical music” as a virtuoso musician, pioneer, innovator, composer, arranger, bandleader, raconteur, and cultural ambassador. Born in Cheraw in 1917, Gillespie was the last of nine children. His father, who was the leader of a small band, died when Dizzy was ten years old. Until his father’s death, the young lad was exposed to many instruments. He first played the trombone. When he was 12 years old he switched to trumpet and began playing for dances at schools in his area. Mr. Gillespie has performed before numerous royalty and countless world leaders, including four American presidents; has appeared as guest soloist with symphony orchestras all over the world; has won every imaginable award in the field of jazz; and has received 14 honorary doctoral degrees. In 1989, he was honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Mr. Gillespie, with the late Charlie Parker, is acclaimed as the co-founder of Bebop which revolutionized music of the 20th Century. Over 40 years ago, Gillespie began to explore the varied music of cultures throughout the world. He is the catalyst who incorporated Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Caribbean music and rhythms into the jazz idiom. He believes that jazz “celebrates the internationally of music — our common language, our common bond.” In 1956, Gillespie was the first jazz artist appointed by the Department of State as Cultural Ambassador to tour on behalf of the United States of America. His successful tours through the Near East, Asia Eastern Europe and Latin America were early landmarks in a lifetime of cultural statesmanship by Gillespie. In January 1989, Mr. Gillespie was asked to embark on a ground-breaking tour of Africa sponsored by the United States Information Agency Arts America Program. In Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Zaire and Nigeria — where, installed as a traditional Chieftain, “Baashere of Iperu,” Chief Gillespie became the “King of Entertainers” – the legendary “Master of Bebop” returned proudly to this roots and “wowed ’em!” His spectacular all-star United National Orchestra has performed in 14 countries on three continents since its inception in 1988. Mr. Gillespie’s synthesis of the African/American and Afro-Cuban experience is the subject of the award-winning film, “A Night in Havana,” which is currently in theatrical release throughout the world. On June 13, 1989, the Maestro was awarded the highest honor in the Arts in France when he was designated a Commandre d’Ordre des Artes et Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. At the White House on November 17, 1989, Mr. Gillespie was honored with the National Medal of Arts by President George Bush.