With Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie is one of the most important trumpet players in jazz history. He was one of the “be-bop” founding musicians, and later created his own jazz style with Latin American rhythms and influences.
He was introduced to music at age 4 and was awarded a music student scholarship at the prestigious Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. He left this institution prematurely in 1935 to become a professional musician in Philadelphia. Influenced by Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie replaced him in the Teddy Hill Band after his departure. His musical experiments earned him the attention of the famous trumpet player (and future musical "father" of Dizzy Gillespie) Mario Bauza, founder of Afro-Cuban jazz and member at that time of the Cape Calloway Orchestra, which Gillespie joined in 1939. Despite his musical talents, Calloway did not much appreciate the "Chinese music" of Gillespie's solos, and he was fired two years later following an altercation with Calloway (the two musicians later became great friends until their death). Dizzy Gillespie then played in various bands, including that of Duke Ellington.
In search for his own style, Gillespie developed his own musical elements such as fast and acrobatic music, and above all original harmonies. Proud of his African-American heritage, he used it in his music and fused all musical forms rooted in African culture such as music from Cuba, the Americas and the Caribbean. He merged African-American jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms to forge a sound often called "cu-bop". With his original sound and style, in particular his trumpet which featured a bell which bends upward, Dizzy Gillespie was gradually associated with the greatest jazz musicians of the time, such as Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, and Charlie "Bird" Parker, with whom he performed live in jazz clubs such as Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House.
In the 1940s and 1950s, he collaborated with several South American composers such as Cuban percussionist Chano Ponzo and Cuban trumpet player Arturo Sandoval, with whom he composed many Latin jazz "standards" such as "Manteca" and "Guachi Guaro". He also wrote his own be-bop jazz standards such as “Groovin' High”, “Woody n' You”, “Anthropology”, “Salt Peanuts” and “A Night in Tunisia”. In addition to composing, Dizzy Gillespie taught young musicians such as Miles Davis, Fats Navarro and Max Roach the be-bop jazz style.
He was hired in 1956 by the U. S. State Department as "American Music Ambassador" and toured Europe (mainly Paris), Africa, the Middle East and South America. Although his last recording dated back to 1977, Dizzy Gillespie continued his career with tours and concerts until his death in 1993.
Six landmark dates in the life of Dizzy Gillespie:
1935: Joined the Frank Fairfax Orchestra
1953: Accidentally discovered the effect of the trumpet featuring a bell which bends upward
1956: Organized a Middle East tour, earning him the nickname "the jazz ambassador".
1964: Gillespie declared himself a candidate in the U. S. presidential election
1977: Meeting with composer and musician Arturo Sandoval during a stay in Cuba
2014: Introduced in New Jersey Hall of Fame
Six key records by Dizzy Gillespie:
1950: Bird and Diz
1953: Jazz at Massey Hall (with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach)
1957: Sonny Side Up (with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt)
1963: Dizzy Gillespie and the Double Six of Paris
1971: The Giants of Jazz (with Art Blakey, Al McKibbon, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt and Kai Winding)
1980: Digital at Montreux
Biography from Radio France’s Musical Documentation, August 2014