dizzy gillespie

I saw Google celebrating Dizzy Gillespie's Birthday a few weeks back. It was surprising I suppose, as he seems to have been largely forgotten. The popularisation of black american music and more importantly culture more or less starts with Dizzy Gillespie.

If Google really wanted to honour him they'd have placed a small MP3 clip beneath his image.

Louis Armstrong probably softened up the ears of a mostly white middle class but Gillespie took jazz to a whole new audience and similar to Hip Hop, BeBop was as much about style as music.
BeBop is hard going, it can be a hurdle most people never overcome. When faced with the breakneck speed, odd harmonies unhummable melodies, most give up at the first. It can be dense, frenetic, relentless and extremely sophisticated, as the best Hip Hop can, so in order to have caught on in the way it did it needed more access points, more hooks. Gillespie supplied all the hooks.

It was the photos of the beret, horn-rimmed glasses, goatee beard and suits that initially made you sit up and take notice. The style was more or less imported from trips to Europe (France) and it was this re-exported style that the Europeans latched on to. Anyone could 'look' like DIzzy Gillespie because you definitely were never going to sound like him.

In the early 50s he was pictured with the bottom button of his shirt undone, by chance. After it was printed, the 'beeboppers' began leaving their shirts partly undone. He pioneered the 'crumpled look', again by chance, when forced to sleep over night on busses between concerts he'd show up on stage with his suit in a mess. Because his music was so meticulous and virtuosic the devotees assumed he'd applied this to every aspect of his appearance, assuming a profound meaning behind everything he did.

The bullfrog cheeks and the trumpet pointing to the heavens are the things he'll be most remembered for rather than the earth shattering music he pioneered. If Google really wanted to honour him they'd have placed a small MP3 clip beneath his image.


Dizzy Gillespie announced his candidacy in 1963