John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993) was an American jazz trumpet player, bandleader, composer and, occasionally, singer. Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and improviser, building on the virtuoso style of Roy Eldridge but adding layers of harmonic complexity previously unknown in jazz. His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, pouched cheeks and his light-hearted personality were essential in popularizing bebop.
Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina, the youngest of nine children of James and Lottie Gillespie. James was a local bandleader, so instruments were made available to Dizzy. He started to play the piano at the age of four. He received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in Laurinburg, North Carolina, attending for two years before accompanying his family when they moved to Philadelphia.
“Dizzy Gillespie’s contributions to jazz were huge. One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time (some would say the best), Gillespie was such a complex player that his contemporaries ended up copying Miles Davis and Fats Navarro instead, and it was not until Jon Faddis’s emergence in the 1970s that Dizzy’s style was successfully recreated . . . Arguably Gillespie is remembered, by both critics and fans alike, as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time.”
Scott Yanow, Allmusic
In the 1940s Gillespie, together with Charlie Parker, became a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz. He taught and influenced many other musicians, including trumpeters Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Arturo Sandoval, Lee Morgan, Jon Faddis and Chuck Mangione.
Dizzy’s first professional job was with the Frank Fairfax Orchestra in 1935, after which he joined the respective orchestras of Edgar Hayes and Teddy Hill, essentially replacing Roy Eldridge as first trumpet in 1937. Teddy Hill’s band was where Dizzy Gillespie made his first recording, King Porter Stomp. At this time Dizzy met a young woman named Lorraine from the Apollo Theatre, whom he married in 1940. They remained married until his death in 1993. In 1939, Dizzy joined Cab Calloway’s orchestra, with which he recorded one of his earliest compositions, the instrumental Pickin’ the Cabbage, in 1940.
During the 1964 United States presidential campaign the artist, with tongue in cheek, put himself forward as an independent write-in candidate. He promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed “The Blues House,” and a cabinet composed of Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach (Secretary of Defense), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Travelling Ambassador) and Malcolm X (Attorney General).