Born on October 21, 1917, in Cheraw, South Carolina, Dizzy Gillespie, known for his “swollen” cheeks and signature uniquely angled trumpet’s bell, got his start in the mid-1930s by working in prominent swing bands, including those of Benny Carter and Charlie Barnet. He later created his own band and developed his own signature style, known as “bebop,” and In addition to creating bebop, Gillespie is considered one of the first musicians to infuse Afro-Cuban, Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms with jazz. His work in the Latin-jazz genre includes “Manteca,” “A Night in Tunisia” and “Guachi Guaro,” among other recordings.
Gillespie’s own big band, which performed from 1946 to ’50, was his masterpiece, affording him scope as both soloist and showman. He became immediately recognizable from the unusual shape of his trumpet, with the bell tilted upward at a 45-degree angle—the result of someone accidentally sitting on it in 1953, but to good effect, for when he played it afterward, he discovered that its new shape improved the instrument’s sound quality, and he had it incorporated into all his trumpets thereafter. Gillespie’s best-known works from this period include the songs “Oop Bob Sh’ Bam,” “Groovin’ High,” “Leap Frog,” “Salt Peanuts” and “My Melancholy Baby.
“The music of Charlie Parker and me laid a foundation for all the music that is being played now. Our music is going to be the classical music of the future.”
– Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy was hospitalized due to uncontrolled diabetes in 1992 and an intestinal blockage, which required surgery. He spent the next few months recovering from the operation at home in New Jersey. During that time he received visits from his friends, including musician Wynton Marsalis and comedian Bill Cosby.
In 1993, at the age of 75, Dizzy Gillespie died of pancreatic cancer. The musician had two funerals held in his honor, one of which was a close collection of friends and family and observed at a Baha’l Church, in accordance with Dizzy’s dying wishes, and the other held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York, which was open to the public. Dizzy is remembered for his iconic “bent” trumpet, his comic, energetic style and his lasting influence on jazz with the creation of bebop.
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