Jazz pioneer Dizzy Gillespie dies at 75

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. -- Chipmunk-cheeked jazz trumpeteer Dizzy Gillespie, who pioneered the 1940s movement that changed the shape of traditional jazz into bebop, died Wednesday of cancer. He was 75.

His publicist Virginia Wicks said Gillespie died Wednesday afternoon at the Englewood Medical Center where he had been undergoing treatment since November for pancreatic cancer.


Dr. Elliott Grossman said he was at Gillespie's bedside when he died. 'He fell asleep and stayed asleep,' Grossman said.

'He didn't have an enemy in the world,' said Harris Stratyner, the jazzman's godson at the Gillespie home in Englewood. 'The legend is gone. There'll never be another one like him.'

Gillespie, whose trademarks were an upturned horn and a zany stage presence, died sleeping in a chair at 1:45 p.m. with one of his songs, 'Dizzy's Diamonds,' playing in the background, Wicks said.

'Everybody loved Dizzy,' said Lorraine Gordon, owner of the legendary jazz nightclub, the Village Vanguard, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

'What's the rest of the world going to do without him?' Gordon said. 'But he's got a lot of disciples out there and they'll carry on for him.'

Gillespie had diabetes as well as cancer, but his death was attributed to cancer of the pancreas.


There was to be a memorial service at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan, probably next Saturday, followed by a memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine arranged by his wife of 52 years, Lorraine.

The service was to include funeral rites of the Bahai faith, of which Gillespie was a member.

Gillespie was forced to end his performance career in March after undergoing abdominal surgery. In February, he collapsed following a performance at an Oakland, Calif., nightclub, and was hospitalized for treatment of exhaustion and diabetes.

He recovered to complete a West Coast tour, but was later forced to cancel a South American tour because he wasn't up to it physically, Wicks said.

Gillespie's trumpet took on its tilted, 45-degree angle by accident one night in 1954. He was at a New York nightclub celebrating his wife's birthday and had left the horn on the bandstand.

It was knocked over by a comedian during a break. Gillespie was livid when he returned -- until he played the horn and found he liked the light, bright sound more than the one produced by the conventional shape. He gave the original upturned trumpet to the Smithsonian Institution in 1986.


John Birks 'Dizzy' Gillespie was born Oct. 21, 1917, in Cheraw, S. C. His father, an amateur musician, died when Dizzy was only 10 but taught him the essentials of music. His first instrument was the trombone, which led him to the trumpet.

Gillespie began his career in the late 1930s swing bands. He got his nickname from his odd behavior while performing. He followed his idol, Roy Eldridge, as trumpet soloist in the Teddy Hill band, then toured with Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder, Charlie Barnet, Benny Carter and Lionel Hampton.

In 1943, he forged the modern, experimental rapid-fire bebop sound with saxophonist Charlie 'Bird' Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke. Dizzy's trumpet and Bird's saxophone became outstanding instruments in a band formed by piano player Earl 'Fatha' Hines.

They played in uptown New York, mostly in Harlem in the 1940s, when ballroom dancing was still the rage. Although Gillespie and Parker were outstanding soloists who became legendary figures in jazz, they complemented and inspired each other. Together they reached musical heights that were remembered decades after Parker had died of drug addiction.

In 1944, Gillespie and Parker left the Hines band to join an orchestra formed by singer Billy Eckstine. They parted company shortly afterward, going in opposite directions -- Gillespie upward and Parker downward into drugs.


'In our era, the trumpeter became extremely conscious of chord changes and variations. It sent the trumpet players to the piano, to learn the possiblities. Up until that time, trumpet players were mostly blowers, riff-style,' Gillespie said in a 1985 interview.

In the late 1940s, Gillespie became enamored with Latin rhythm sounds. He became the first jazz musician to incorporate Afro-Cuban percussion elements, including the conga drum, into jazz.

In 1946, Gillespie formed small groups and then the first of three robust big bands. His second big band, formed in 1956, had Quincy Jones working as its chief writer-arranger. It made unprecedented world tours under U.S. State Department sponsorship before disbanding in 1959.

Midway in his career, after his pioneering work in modern jazz, Gillespie played in the classic Norman Granz 'Jazz at the Philharmonic' concerts.

His third big band, formed in 1987, was a 19-piece outfit that made a world tour to celebrate Gillespie's 70th birthday. The band's new arrangements showed off the melodic richness of Gillespie's music. Exotic Cuban rhythms offered a counterpoint to the band's brass.

Gillespie's compositions included the bebop classics 'A Night in Tunisia,' 'Manteca,' 'Woody'n You,' 'Groovin' High,' 'Anthropolgy' and 'Blue 'n' Boogie' and 'Con Alma' as well as rarely heard tunes like 'Emanon' and 'Things To Come.'


Gillespie took exception to the claim that bebop was born in a revolt against white domination of jazz. He believed that bop was a natural outgrowth of jazz and that white musicians never had control over the traditional African musical form.

Gillespie said he saw bigger and younger crowds as he got older.

'All these young kids come to see you and it gives you inspiration,' he said. 'It used to be rock, rock, rock, rock. But the guys are going around in the schools and it's (jazz) becoming popular again.'

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