PART 1 – Introduction
“There is a gesture he has, a motion, that always reminds me of a great batter leaning into a hit. He has a way of throwing one foot forward, putting his head down a bit as he silently runs the valves, and then the cheeks bloom out in a way that has mystified his dentist for years, and he hits into the solo. When that foot goes forward like that, you know that John Birks Gillespie is no longer clowning. Stand back.”
Gene Lees, Waiting for Dizzy
Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“You can’t steal a gift. If you can hear it, you can have it."
And in an act of continuing generosity,
Dave Usher gave JazzProfiles - and its readers - a gift by granting the editorial staff permission to transcribe and post the interviews with Dizzy and members of the band that made the 1956 South American tour and which are included on the two CDs that comprise Volume Three of the set.
And the gifts continued to abound when the noted Jazz writer,
Ira Gitler allowed, JazzProfiles copyright permission to reproduce his insert notes to Volume One of the Dizzy in South America series in order to provide a context for Dave Usher's interviews with Dizzy and the band members that make up Part 2 of this feature.
Although the CDs themselves have been discontinued by
Dave’s Consolidated Artists Productions, all three volumes are available as Mp3 downloads at Amazon.com.
© -The following insert notes to Volume 1 are reprinted with the permission of
Ira Gitler; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
© -The subsequent interviews which comprised Part 2 of this feature are transcribed and reprinted with the permission of
Dave Usher; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
"From the September 5, 1956, issue of Down Beat: “The John (Dizzy) Gillespie band, making its second trip this year under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, began its Latin American swing July 25 in Quito, Ecuador. The band played
(July 26-27); Guayaquil, Ecuador (July 28-August 4); Buenos Aires, Argentina (August 5); Montevideo, Uruguay (August 6-12) and Rio de Janeiro (August 13-17), Sao Paulo ." Brazil
"At press time, it appeared possible that Dizzy and the band might play
, Chile , Peru , and Colombia on the way back." Venezuela
While this projected back-end of the trip did not happen, what did take place was momentous. At this point in his career, Gillespie, at 46, was a young elder statesman of jazz and a musical ambassador for his country. As co-founder of the modern jazz movement and a prime mover in bringing Afro-Cuban rhythms and themes to jazz, he was one of the most respected and recognizable musicians in the world. Earlier in 1956, he had successfully toured the Middle and
Near East for the U.S. State Department, leading a big band for the first time since 1950 (other than in isolated engagements).
No one would ever accuse Gillespie of being a slouch as a small-group leader, but he was truly in his element when fronting a big band. That is the background from which he came, including the orchestras of Teddy Hill, Cab Calloway, Edgar Hayes, Lucky Millinder, Charlie Barnet, Les Hite, Earl Hines, Boyd Raeburn, and Billy Eckstine, to name a few. The first big band of his own was the one that made the ill-fated southern
tour with Hepsations of 1945. The second attempt at a big band was made in the spring of 1946, after Diz had returned (without Charlie Parker) from a month in U.S. , and once again put down roots on California 52nd Street.
After opening with a sextet at the Spotlite in late February, expanding to an orchestra was discussed. By April it became a reality - one of the most exciting, explosive big bands of all time, caught up in the realization that it was taking part in something that was "happening," a musical benchmark. You didn't have to consciously think, 'This is historic." You felt it.
By the summer of 1947, the band, now at the Downbeat club, a few doors away from the Spotlite, had lost some of its rough edges but none of its fire, and had the luxury of an ever-expanding book. A signing by RCA Victor toward the end of August proved to be a beneficial relationship for both the band and the recording company, until it ended in 1949. Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra became a major force in jazz. The next contract, with Capitol Records, proved to be not as sanguine. The material recorded was not up to Gillespian standards. (The last recording they made with Capitol — under pressure - was a novelty tune titled "You Stole My Wife, You Horse Thief.") By 1950, the hand business was in serious decline. It was a year in which the Count Basie band broke up, as did Gillespie’s. Basie went to a small group before reorganizing his orchestra in 1951. Dizzy wasn't to get a big band underneath him again until 1956.
Like Basie, Diz went to a sextet format.
Gillespie led combos and also toured as a member of Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic, recording for
Regarding his task at hand, Usher said, 'The good thing was that because we were on a State Department tour, we were always met by a representative from either the consulate or the embassy, and they would help us with the technical aspects. We had to convert from 60 cycles to 50, and we could always rely on the people from the State Department to call ahead for a transformer, which made my job much easier. Whenever we had a problem, they were there to help us and did."
'The tape ran at 7-1/2 ips. Professional taping at that time was always done at 15 ips (symphonies at 30). Only the 'public' used 7-1/2. Well, we disproved that theory, because this stuff is still unbelievably good today, more than 42 years later. We used 3M 111 magnetic tape. It was great equipment for its time. The pre-amp was a Fisher. The Ampex was a monaural tape machine, and a guy in
had shown me how to adapt it so that I could have two Electrovoice mics — a solo mic plus an overall mic — that I put on a stand which went up eight feet max. Most times we didn't bother trying to get the piano because we never had a decent one. New York
"It was a very exciting tour. The band, after the
Middle East tour, was very well-seasoned, and the thing that really got me is that generally, when you're on the road, you're going to have arguments; some guys aren't happy with the other guys. We had nothing like that. There were no animosities, no gripes; nobody was bitching. It was a happy tour. We had times when things were bad, like on the boat from to Buenos Aires , when there was no heat. I mean it was winter! Everyone was bundled up, but there was never any complaining. Montevideo
'This was in 1956, only two years after the Supreme Court had rejected the principle of separate but equal to end segregation in schools. In a sense we were an experiment, this integrated orchestra. There were four white musicians — Phil Woods, Frank Rehak, Rod Levitt, and Marty Flax. Melba Liston, the only woman, and the rest of the band were black. The State Department had sponsored this tour to show that the
"We were coming from
after playing in Chile , and we had lost the use of two of our four engines coming over the Ecuador Andes. We made it, but we were really late. People were waiting for us at the Teatro Casino. Whenever we arrived somewhere, we had to first check into a hotel in order to get ID cards in exchange for our passports. So we just dumped our gear at the hotel and immediately went to the theater. People kept saying to me 'What about the hotel? What about the hotel?' I didn't understand what they were talking about. I didn't even think about the fact that we weren't staying at the , where we had made reservations. It turned out that the Savoy Hotel had refused our admittance because there were blacks in the band. This was particularly ironic because the Savoy was owned by Americans. It was a huge story in Savoy South America, in all the headlines.
"Peter Hahn, a stringer for CBS news, took me to La Prensa, the leading newspaper in
. This was right after Peron had fallen, and there were shell holes in the building. Hahn showed me that he was filing the Buenos Aires story to the press services in the States. It was supposed to come back down in Spanish. He said, 'Watch. It'll never come back.' And it never did. The story never appeared in the Savoy It was squelched. The incident wasn't the State Department's fault, but the Communists had a field day. U.S.
“The next morning, while Dizzy was still sleeping, Peter came and dragged me out of bed. He said we had to get to the 'Pink House,' where the president of
wanted to make an official apology. I accepted the apology on behalf of the band (the hotel was fined $2,500)." Argentina
None of this deterred the band from its appointed sounds. Gillespie was a great ambassador. Usher notes, "I admired Dizzy for many reasons, but one that really hit home to me was when we were in
. We went to be interviewed at a school, Casa Roosevelt [the Sao Paulo ], which was sponsored by the Franklin Roosevelt School to teach English. It was an open-air, backyard kind of thing. There were a great many young kids, junior high and high school students, who were asking Dizzy questions. They wanted to come to the evening performance, but they didn't have the money. (We found out that our secondary sponsor, the U.S. , was charging admission.) We told the kids to present their IDs and they'd get in. Dizzy refused to play until the kids were allowed in. He said, 'We're doing this for the people.'" American National Theater Academy
"For me, one of the most interesting and poignant facts of this documentary on Dizzy is not only about his music. I often looked on Dizzy as a Chaplin-esque character. He would do these cute, funny things. In addition to being known as a supreme musician, people knew him as a clown. He had comedic tendencies, and he would utilize them with an audience and be able to get an audience friendly. This can be heard here, particularly during "
also gained as a result of the tour. In every hotel, in every country we U.S.
visited, people were always waiting in the lobby, day and night, to meet Dizzy, or even just get a glimpse of him. Somehow, a few of them would always get upstairs. They would be waiting in the hall outside Dizzy's room. We tried to be nice, but it would often get intense. It was hard to move around or visit from room to room, as we often did. Someone would always want to accompany you, or take you out somewhere for a drink, or give you a present for Dizzy. Some of these guys must have figured out I was P.R. because they started approaching me. One day, a young man introduced himself to me. He was very bright, with a really quick wit. I gave in and took the young Lalo Shifrin (with his arrangements) to meet Dizzy. Lalo was the leader of the only bebop big band in
. Dizzy listened to him play and immediately wanted to hire him. He asked Lalo to go to the Argentina and work with him. After that, Lalo spent nearly four years and countless sit-ins with Dizzy. Of course, Lalo went on to write some of U.S. 's greatest scores; Bullet, Coolhand Luke, Dirty Harry, Hollywood Mission Impossible, and, recently, Tango and Rush Hour."
Reminiscing about the orchestra put a smile on Usher's face. “They flowed and drove so well. Precision and warmth. These two words don't normally go together, but they do in the case of this group of musicians. The band was able to achieve this partly because they had been working together on the road with only one day a week off, and partly because they were doing these particular compositions steady every night. But steady doesn't mean a thing if you don't have the enthusiasm of an audience. These audiences picked up on the feel. They understood what the band was doing."
Now we can all hear what the band was doing in
South America, beginning on Volume 1 with Tadd Dameron's "Cool Breeze," taken at a faster pace than in the old days. This is one of the arrangements that Billy Eckstine let Gil Fuller have for the second Gillespie band, five days before it was to open at the Spotlite in 1946. Trombonist Frank Rehak, who stylistically was coming behind Earl Swope, opens the soloing with a combination of fluidity and rich tone. Gillespie is up next. Here a quote from Bama Warwick is in order. In Dizzy's book, to BE or not to BOP, says, "Diz was really at his peak. He was really fired up playing in front of that big band..." Warwick
Bama was referring to the
Ernie Wilkins' "Groovin' for Nat" (Hentoff, as you might rightly assume) is an airy, sophisticated swinger with Charlie Persip kicking away. Gillespie's two solo spots sandwich Mitchell's, and there's a short bit from a distant Walter Davis.
In a studio version of "Can't Get Started," Quincy Jones gets credit for the arrangement. Perhaps he did the orchestration, but the introduction/ending, which Dizzy created for his small-band version in 1945 and also utilized on "Round Midnight," is present here, as are the figures under his opening interpretation of the melody, also from 1945.
In Gillespie's big-band format for his "A Night in
," the trombone always transmits the exotic theme. Rehak helps establish the mood before the table is set for the dazzling Diz catapulting seamlessly into his solo with one of his classic suspended beginnings. Tenorist Benny Golson, with his Byas-ed stylings, catches the air of mystery well, and bassist Nelson Boyd (the man for whom "Half Nelson" was named) plucks a sonorous solo. Dizzy's coda caps the trip with a climactic exclamation point. Then, in a variety of languages, he thanks the audience for its applause before stating some multilingual toasts. Tunisia
Then it's Austin Cromer's turn in the spotlight. Judging by his efforts here, it is hard to figure out why he never made it. His voice is effective in all registers. He can shout, as on "Seems Like You Just Don't Care," where Gillespie solos; and croon, amply demonstrated by "Flamingo," where lead alto saxist Jimmy Powell is heard in solo. Cromer's dramatic ballad style is Eckstine-tinged (in a way he reminds me more of Al Hibbler) but he has his own sound within the genre.
"Stella by Starlight" is the first of two Melba Liston arrangements. Gillespie interprets the melody, interweaving and alternating with the chart in which Liston uses the song's arresting harmonic structure to her advantage. Diz solos more broadly toward the end, topping it off with his heavenly chops.
The band shuffles off to "School Days," with
plinking away before expanding his single line, which includes a reference to 'The Peanut Vendor." Vocalist Gillespie updates the old nursery rhyme, having a lot of fun, and Mitchell comes on like a bar-walker with some rock-house tenor that, even in its semi-parody, cooks like crazy. Davis
Volume 1 of this tour closes with "
,” one of Dizzy’s hits. It’s all here: the ‘I’ll never go back to Manteca ,’ chant; the maestro’s flights over the Latin vamp; the theme; a short solo from Mitchell; and an even shorter one from Dizzy. The rhythm section takes over at this point with bass bone and cowbell in the mix. Soon the ensemble is into the ‘Is-tan-bul, Con-stan-ti-nople’ groove, and you know Diz is dancing. Persip, an inspiring helmsman throughout, brings it back into the ‘ Georgia ’ vamp and out with the main theme never restated. Manteca
There you have Volume I of Dizzy in
South America. Volumes 2 and 3 will be issued in the near future. They will not only contain more exciting big-band sides, but also some very special recordings Dizzy made with a samba band in Brazil and a tango ensemble in Argentina!”
[Gitler’s first published piece on Jazz, which appeared in his high school (Columbia Grammar prep) newspaper (March 1946), covered Dizzy Gillespie’s small group at the Spotlite. Gitler’s friendship with
Dave Usher began when they met at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.]
Dizzy Gillespie - Leader & Trumpet
E. V. Perry - Trumpet
Phil Woods and Jimmy Powell - Alto
Benny Golson and Billy Mitchell -Tenor
Marty Flax - Baritone
Melba Liston, Frank Rehak, and Rod Levitt -
Walter Davis, Jr. - Piano, Nelson Boyd - Bass
Charlie Persip - Drums
PART 2 – The Interviews
The subsequent account by Quincy Jones is drawn from the JAM SESSION website which is maintained by the
– Arts for Cultural Diplomacy and the Institute for Jazz Studies and helps provides a background for Dizzy’s 1956 State Department Tour of South America. Meridian International Center
Following Qunicy’s testimonial there is a transcribed, text interview with alto saxophonist Phil Woods about his impressions of Dizzy and the South American tour of 1956 and a YouTube of
Dave Usher’s interview with composer-arranger Lalo Schifrin, whom Dizzy met during the tour and who was to play such a significant role in Dizzy’s musical career for many years thereafter.
Our sincere thanks to
Dave Usher, once again, for his generosity in allowing these materials to be featured on JazzProfiles.
-Arts for Cultural Diplomacy; copyright protected; all rights reserved. Meridian International Center
Jones, Quincy Los Angeles, California
One of my happiest recollections is when the
government in 1955 asked Dizzy Gillespie to organize a band that would travel to U.S. Southern Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia as 's first Jazz Ambassadors. Dizzy was booked on a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of America Europe and was unable to recruit and rehearse the group. Since we had a history of working together he asked me to do it and, at the age of 22, I levitated. At the time, I was working on the first record by a 17-year-old unknown track jumper from named Johnny Mathis. After I got the request from Dizzy, I explained to George Avakian that “my Nation” (Diz) had called and I had to decline the offer of working with Johnny. San Francisco
Over several months, I found the best jazz musicians in the
, reworked some of the older arrangements, wrote new ones, plus had band members like the great Melba Liston and Ernie Wilkins compose original charts. We wrote arrangements for the national anthems of every country we visited and also composed a piece representing “The History of Jazz.” We picked up Diz in United States in March of 1956 and continued on to our first gig in Rome . The band was ready to play. Iran
The entire trip was an adventure. We didn't know what we were getting into; neither did the State Department. It was new for everyone. While we expected to encounter leaders, we also wanted to meet the people. From
to Pakistan , Iran , and Syria we had a great time — learning about local customs, jamming with each country's musicians, and letting the music bring us together. We became the kamikaze band representing our country. I say that because there was conflict of some kind going on in every place we visited. Yugoslavia
They were so pleased with our tour accomplishments that we were asked to make another trip that summer. We visited
South America where, again, jazz helped us to build bridges and tell a larger story of — and ourselves — to people from all walks of life. Music and art have that kind of power — and the fact that the State Department adopted this model for decades after our 1956 tours means that it worked. America
There is no substitute for these kinds of personal exchanges — especially those based on the arts. They allow us to better understand one another, to respect and value our differences, and more importantly, our similarities. They also do this on a profound level that can change attitudes and beliefs. Believe it or not, some of these countries had never seen or heard trumpets, trombones or saxophones play together.
The jazz tours, many over fifty years in the past, may not be known by some Americans, especially the very young. That is why I am pleased
has organized Jam Session for travel around the country and the world. This exhibit captures Meridian International Center 's jazz greats as they shared their spirit with the people of the world — and shows how music can create lasting connections.” America
© -Subsequent interviews transcribed and reprinted with the permission of
Dave Usher; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
PHIL WOODS - 2001
“Dizzy was just pivotal to my whole being, to the core of my being.
One of the last gigs we did was the Dizzy Gillespie-Phil Woods All-Stars in
Now we’re playing Birks Works, and Dizzy says to me: ‘You’re having a little trouble with the pick-ups, aren’t you?’
And I said: ‘Well, I got no rhythm, you know: I’m Irish.!’ All of a sudden, I was back to being 24-years old again and I’m playing with Dizzy Gillespie. But when he said that to me, school was open again.
He said: ‘You know, I’m standing right next to you’
Dizzy never missed a beat, he never missed a trick. Now the sound at the gig is echoing all over the place, the drums are reverberating and I couldn’t hear the center of the beat.
So I said to Dizzy: ‘Birks, so how the hell do you find the center when its all spread out like that?’
Dizzy doesn’t miss a stitch, never did, so he says to me: ‘You know, I’m a rhythm man!’ [laughter!]
Dizzy is the most important musician to come out of Jazz. He had it all. He could communicate with the people and he took a lot of raps because he was a communicator. He was always modest and even when the critics were putting him down, Dizzy always gave the credit to Charlie Parker [nicknamed “Bird”].
Bird was the meteor who came across the sky and disappeared, but Dizzy was the guy who took it all and carried right through to the end. He was always ‘going to school.’ Dizzy was good at playing the piano; Bird didn’t play any piano. Birks [Dizzy’s middle name] had the piano down; harmonically he was a master.
Nothing was ever said in that
Ken Burns thing [PBS documentary series on Jazz] about [doesn’t continue this thought but instead asked the question]. Where would Charlie Parker be without [composer] Jerome Kern?
You know, the Jewish-European harmonic sense is what Dizzy and Bird got and it fed the Bebop soul. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, all those cats – I call them Jewish European, but they weren’t all Jewish – but they all had the European tradition of harmony.
But this never gets mentioned. Without songs they wrote like The Song is You and All The Things You Are, you wouldn’t have Dizzy and Bird. Diz and Bird went hand-in-hand with the European harmonic tradition; [Burns] really missed the boat on this … [relationship].
These are the songs they utilized [to create the structure for Bebop] and these songs are European-based [harmonically]. They are not an American invention: these didn’t come
Appalachia or the spirituals in ; this is how Jazz got its voice, as a blend of Afro & European things. New Orleans
[The influences on] Jazz is not just based on one continent, but on influences from the whole world.
Dizzy was the first one to collate it [these Afro-European influences], to analyze it and to put it into a form and explain it to the Swing [era] guys like [tenor saxophonist] Coleman Hawkins; and [alto saxophonist composer-arranger] Benny Carter was there too; he was utilizing this harmony.
You can’t subdivide [subtract?] the rhythm from the harmony. When you got the rhythm that Birks had plus the harmonic sophistication, you got the whole package. [By comparison], Bird was just instinctive, but Dizzy was more studied [in the accomplished sense of the word]; he was just a student all his life.”
At this point,
Dave Usher reflects on [but doesn’t give a specific location for] a later tour that he had made with Dizzy in the 1980s and his suggestion to Dizzy that they use their off-night to go hear a Jazz group. Dizzy’s answer was: “I don’t want to hear a Jazz group, I want to hear their thing” [i.e.: native or indigenous music].
[Phil picks it up from here again and says]: “Yeah’ like jamming with a snake charmer [something Dizzy actually did in
during a 1955 tour]. He was always studying music no matter where he went.” Karachi, Pakistan
I never met him before he did it, but Quincy Jones put that band together – God Bless Quincy Jones – he was the one that heard me on the [earlier] Birdland All-Stars tour and that led to me being on the band for the 1955/56 State Department Tours.
Can you imagine, I’m 24-years old and I’m on stage playing Groovin’ High with Dizzy Gillespie? It began a friendship and that love that we had for each other … [interrupts thought and continues with] … I can tell you a whole bunch of stories about how important he was to my life, but that South American tour in 1956 was pivotal.
I’m so happy that you are finally releasing [the music] from it because, Man, when Dizzy took that batting stance and put that horn up to his chops with a big band, that was Dizzy at his best. Just listen to his performance on A Night in Tunisia – he hits it out of the park. It’s primo; it’s just primo. We knew that at the time, of course. But now, the rest of the world can hear it too.
Phil continues: His [Dizzy’s] contribution is so important that its probably going to take historians a hundred  years to figure it out. We haven’t even figured out Duke Ellington, yet! American goes on; the ash tray is full; buy a new car. And now its even worse than ever with most people’s attention span being as long an eight note.
Hopefully, the cats [Jazz musicians] will always know and his message will be clear. But your right, people have a funny viewpoint of who Dizzy is. ‘ Oh, that Dizzy Gillespie, he’s just that crazy guy that funny guy.’ They have no idea of his depth. Because he could communicate [through his humor] with an audience, even the be-boppers put Dizzy down. They criticized him for show-boating or pandering when he was just being Dizzy and trying to help people feel good.
Oo-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be because both of us felt that it would be an opportunity to bring people in who wouldn’t normally listen to us. And within the structure of that commercial appeal, he could play and the group could play, which is exactly what those things were all about.
Phil Woods continues: That’s similar to the reason why Charlie Parker made the album with strings, to play some [recognizable] melodies. Bird didn’t have that savoir faire, that je na
quoi communication that Dizzy had. sais
What’s wrong with trying to touch some people? Is that a dirty word? Miles and his guys moved it into an art form, but there’s a balancing act between art forms and entertainment and Dizzy is the guy who walk that tightrope and do that trapeze act.
This is why he [Dizzy] was the best choice for the State Department. Because even though people didn’t understand the music, they liked the way this man stood up in front of that band and boy, they sure knew he was a ‘rhythm man.’ Just the way he used to dance during the introduction to
And we had a lot of laughs like when he called me and said: ‘Look we got this quick State Department tour of
South America coming up. I know you got the $25 last time, but this time it’ll be $50 [assumedly referring to Phil’s weekly tour salary], but you are the only guy whose got a passport and all the shots. And you know the book; you wanna come back?’
I said, ‘Oh, thank you.’ And I went to
South America and it was like a Gift from God.
Dizzy was always doing stuff, like one night he kidnapped me. This was in the 1960s. Art Blakey was working somewhere and I was sitting at the bar, bitching and complaining.
During the break, Art and Dizzy kidnapped me, the put me in a cab and one sat on either side of me in the back seat and Dizzy got a look on his face and said: ‘What’s your problem Woods?’
And I said: ‘Well, you know, things [work opportunities] are just not happening.’
Dizzy said; ‘If you got your act together, you could make something of yourself.’
I said: ‘You really think I’m any good ?!’
Dizzy said: ‘Yes, if you stop whining and grow up and play your horn.’
I said: Ya, but I’m a white guy …. [trails off].’
Dizzy said: ‘Bird gave it to everybody. Bird gave the music to all races. If you can hear it, you can have it. You have the talent; grow up.’
Phil: Art Blakey was saying the same thing. So that’s when I got my own band and I never looked back.’
Can you image these Giants of Jazz taking time out of their busy scheduled to talk with this Irish-honkey who is crying the blues? You know when your 24, 25 or 26-years old you have all these doubts.
Phil comments: I know, I know, I was always grateful that he gave me that kind of support. I always looked up to him for that and admired him.
The last tour we did together Dizzy said to me: ‘I’m so lucky to be a Jazz musician.’ Here’s this guy who at that time had been doing it for 50+ years who still thinks that he’s a lucky so-and-so.
And I feel the same way. Dizzy always gave something back; he was especially patient with the young guys and I’ve always tried to keep that tradition, too. Charlie Parker was this way, so was Art Blakey and many of the other Giants.
That ‘oral tradition of the tribe’ which has kind of been lost with all of this Jazz education that we have now. But, then too, I’m all for it because any time you can get a guy to play an instrument he’s less likely to kill you with an Uzi.
I’m the last generation to learn at the feet of the Masters. I mean I was there. The Masters and The Youth used to travel on the same bus. There are no more buses. I mean, that was our university.
It ain’t just about Giant Steps [i.e.: being able to play on the complicated chord changes to this tune written by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane as a rite of initiation].
The young guys and the old guys played in big bands together, small groups together; there was a sharing, like a family thing that was very special.
Piazzolla [Argentine tango composerand bandoneon player. His oeuvre revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango came to hear my quintet when we were working at Fat Tuesday’s and he said: ‘You had no idea how important it was for us to hear you guys during the 1956 tour.’
He [Astor Piazzolla] wanted to take the old fashioned tango to another step; you know, they call him the Charlie Parker of
. ‘When I hear that [Dizzy’s band], I knew exactly what to do.’ Argentina
Because Piazzolla was European-trained, he related to the intricate harmonies of Dizzy and that combined with the rhythmical aspects of the Afro-Cuban thing that he was doing.
I mean the light went on all over
South America [as a result of Dizzy’s 1956 tour]. Even Jobim, same thing. The sophistication of that music, the difficulty of bebop reached them. It’s one of the most difficult ways to improvise ever created.
Now kids can kind of rattle it off, but it sounds like it’s being done by rote; it doesn’t have the touch of the street like it had then [1940’s and 50’s].
You had to have the sophistication to learn it, but you also had to have both feet planted on the sidewalk and the sidewalk wasn’t exactly
5th Avenue, baby, or the Champs Elysees. [laughter]
It was the people’s music. It wasn’t an elitist type of an art form which it has sort of become today. Everyone was dancing to the same beat. In those days, Jazz unified American families and the whole world. It wasn’t only important to the South American musicians, it represented freedom to all those Iron Curtain countries.
Those State Department tour are an example of whenever American wanted to do something good, in those days they sent a Jazz band. I mean our first tour was
, Iran , Syria , Lebanon , Greece – all the trouble spots of the world. I think they should have sent Dizzy a couple of more times, it might have saved us some lives. Turkey
Dizzy’s lessons have really paid off because now I think that some of the strongest music is coming from the Latin American countries.
People ask me: ‘Where is Jazz going’ and I think its going to international areas that have more rhythmic sophistication.
Dizzy, Monk and Bird took it harmonically about as far as you can go. And then the Free [Jazz] guys took it another step to atonal – you know, no tonal center. That didn’t work then and it still doesn’t work now. Minimalist stuff doesn’t work and is very dull.
Dizzy also pointed out that ‘South American musicians knew more about our music than we knew about theirs. He was right and we got to redress that balance, I think and start to “steal their licks” [musical phrasing]. It’s happening, there are some developments and you can trace all of these to the father – Dizzy.
At this point,
Dave closes the interview with Phil stating in the waning moments: ‘I’m so lucky to be a Jazz musician.’”
© -Subsequent interview used with the permission of
Dave Usher; copyright protected; all rights reserved.