Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet, congas, vocals; Jon Faddis - trumpet; Rodney Jones - guitar; Ben Brown - electric bass; Mickey Roker - drums
Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie brought his crackling quintet to Nice for the Grande Parade du Jazz festival in 1977. With his young protégé Jon Faddis on second trumpet, Rodney Jones on guitar, electric bassist Ben Brown and drummer Mickey Roker, they deliver a funky version of "Swing Low Sweet Cadillac," Dizzy's humorous and decidedly Afro-Cuban adaptation of the gospel song "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." This invigorating opener (also the title track of a popular 1967 Impulse! date that Gillespie had with James Moody) features some vocal antics upfront that pay tribute to Dizzy's former partner in pioneering Latin jazz, the late Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. Dizzy and his crew conclude their set with a scintillating version of Gillespie's famous set piece, "A Night in Tunisia," a composition he had written in 1942 while a member of the Earl Hines Orchestra and which has since become an oft-covered jazz standard. With Brown providing a steady walking bass alongside Roker's incessant swing and Jones providing piano comping underneath, Gillespie unleashes a vibrant, virtuosic trumpet solo on his signature piece, showing that at age 59 his chops were still very much intact. Jones' guitar solo here is adventurous and full of some beautiful Wes Montgomery-inspired chordal melody work. Bassist Brown also stretches out on a fleet-fingered solo that is underscored by Jones' gentle comping and Roker's sensitive swing factor. In a rare recorded encounter, Gillespie engages in some fiery call-and-response exchanges with Faddis as an extended coda that is worth the price of admission.
A legendary figure in the history of jazz and natural-born entertainer, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was born on October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina. He began on trombone, switched to trumpet at age 12 and began playing professionally at age 18, inspired by the exuberant Swing Era trumpeter Roy Eldridge. He broke into the business with the Frankie Fairfax band based in Philadelphia and in 1937 replaced his trumpet hero Eldridge in the Teddy Hill Orchestra, making his recording debut on a version of Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp." He joined Cab Calloway's band in 1939 and remained for two years, eventually getting fired by the bandleader in 1941 for allegedly throwing a spitball at Calloway (though it was later determined that Jonah Jones was the culprit). The trumpeter subsequently freelanced in a number of situations, including bands led by Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Charlie Barnet and Duke Ellington, before joining Earl Hines' adventurous orchestra in 1942. (Gillespie wrote his most famous composition, "A Night in Tunisia," while employed by Hines). After joining Billy Eckstine's bebop big band in 1943, Gillespie found himself playing alongside such future stars as Charlie Parker, Leo Parker, Art Blakey, Wardell Gray, Oscar Pettiford, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt and Sarah Vaughan. He recorded with Eckstine in 1944 and that year also participated in a seminal bebop session with tenor sax great Coleman Hawkins that included Dizzy's composition "Woody 'n You."
In 1945, Gillespie teamed up with Charlie Parker (whom he often referred to as "the other half of my heartbeat") and revolutionized the jazz world with such rhythmically advanced numbers as "Groovin' High," "Shaw Nuff" and "Salt Peanuts," setting the tone for the bebop movement of the late '40s. Gillespie later put together a big band featuring Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo that pioneered the melding of jazz and Afro-Cuban music through such vehicles as "Manteca" and "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop." He had a few reunions with his former partner Charlie Parker, including the celebrated 1953 Jazz at Massey Hall concert in Toronto) and subsequently toured with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic packages, in which he engaged in trumpet battles with various players, including his role model Roy Eldridge. Between 1956 and 1958, Gillespie played international ambassador, traveling on several U.S. State Department-sponsored tours to Europe, South America and the Far East to spread the word about jazz. These trips abroad whetted his appetite for music of other cultures, serving as a springboard for later investigations into world music.
Gillespie led several small groups through the '60s and in the '70s participated in a string of recordings for Norman Granz's Pablo label, including 1975's The Trumpet Kings at Montreux with fellow trumpeters Clark Terry and Roy Eldridge. Though Dizzy's chops were diminished by the '80s, he continued playing and touring through the decade with his United Nations Orchestra. His last two recordings, taken from a month-long engagement at New York's Blue Note jazz club in 1992, featuring all-star lineups and various special guests, are titled To Bird with Love and To Diz with Love. He died a year later, on January 7, 1993, at his home in Englewood, New Jersey. (Bill Milkowski)