Thursday, January 30, 2020

Dizzy Gillespie in South America - Part 3

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

If you don’t know the music on this 3 CD set, you should, as you will find it to be some of the fullest expressions of Dizzy’s mature style ever captured on record, as well as, a record of the beginning steps of instrumentalists such as Phil Woods, Benny Golson and Charlie Persip that would help them develop into full-fledged Jazz icons during the later years of their careers.

The interviews included on this, the third disc in the set, are priceless primary sources.

And the band, feeding off of the enthusiasm and energy of the audience, never sounded more exhilarating. Charlie persip’s big band drumming is a revelation.

Dizzy’s solo on Night in Tunisia is one of his most spectacular on record IMHO.

“In the course of an interview with Dan Morgenstern, many years ago, Dizzy Gillespie stated: “I’m a rhythm man, you know. I used to play for dancers," and added, talking about his wife, Lorraine, "She used to be a dancer, and I still try to phrase like that. I loved to play for the chorus line at the Cotton Club. One night — I had just joined Teddy Hill - I was playing something that really made that line step, and Bill Robinson was watching in the wings. He turned around to somebody and asked. 'Where did that little bastard come from?' I'm still a rhythm man."

Given his predilection for rhythm, it is not surprising that Gillespie became involved, early on, with Latin beats and notes. In cosmopolitan New York he was first exposed to the world as a member of the Teddy Hill orchestra, in 1937. The Latin Beat was in the air. In 1938 he appeared at the Savoy Ballroom with the eminent Cuban flautist Alberto Socarras. "I wanted my band to play everything," said Socarras, ""Spanish music, Brazilian music, Argentine music, Cuban and American music. But I wanted my music to sound American. So when the trumpet solos came, Dizzy took over. It sounded American because an American was playing it. It was easy for Diz to go from American music to Cuban music, see. Also, I wrote my own arrangements, and Dizzy s solos were very nice, very Cuban-like.'

"We played Cuban music first, like boleros and things like that, and he phrased his solos marvelously. Then we played rhumbas, fast numbers, and his style was very Cuban. To him it was as easy as American music was to me."

When Gillespie joined Cab Calloway’s band in 1939, his section mate and roommate was Cuban Mario Bauza, who had taken a day off so that Dizzy could replace him and thereby directly audition for Cab. "Mario was the first to impress me with the importance of Afro-Cuban music," Diz stated. He became interested in its various aspects and told Bauza that if he ever led his own band, he would incorporate a conga drum. A man of his word, Diz did just that in the 1947 edition of his big band when he hired the great Chano Pozo. Recordings such as "Algo Bueno," "Manteca" and "Cubano Be-Cubano Bop" were instrumental in establishing Afro-Cuban as a powerfully viable jazz expression.

His  State  Department  trip to South America in 1956 gave the ever-inquisitive Gillespie a firsthand opportunity to encounter indigenous forms such as the tango and samba. After playing in Ecuador, the band arrived in Buenos Aires via a non-playing stopover in Chile. 

In Buenos Aires Osvaldo Fresedo, the tango king, had a nightclub where his band appeared. Usher, who had been invited by Dizzy to record the big band but who also served unofficially as press liaison, tells the extraordinary story of the event. "Fresedo did an impromptu recording with his orchestra and Dizzy. Before that, for publicity purposes, I went to the opera house and got Dizzy a gaucho costume. So Diz had the hat. the lace shirt, a vest and a big belt. Actually. Che Guevara’s sister gave Dizzy and me a belt. Dizzy was also wearing boots with spurs, so we just had to get him a horse. I went to a stable near the racetrack. The horse was swaybacked."

"Dizzy was waiting at the Starlight Club on a side street. We made our way there in a cab — slowly, because a stable boy was following on the horse. Dizzy got on the horse, holding his trumpet and a glass of milk. They're taking pictures of him, when all of a sudden, he gives the horse a little kick with his spurs and it takes off.

"We're on this side street, and the horse goes toward the main drag. It’s about five o’clock in the afternoon. No stop lights on an avenue that's about 16 lanes wide, and Dizzy got right into the traffic. We thought he was going to get killed, but he made it back and went right into the club and started recording."

In Rio de Janeiro Gillespie became enmeshed in the samba. “We went up to the Esquola de Samba, which is a school for the samba up in the hills behind Rio, and we watched the performers,” says Usher. “And ofcourse Dizzy loved it. He was like a little child, so fascinated by the rhythms."

Dizzy described the experience as "dancing and rhythm, that's all. There are no melodic instruments. The rhythms themselves make melodies. Run you crazy. The samba school consists of rhythm sections comprised of different instruments, like the tambourine, cuica and berimbao."

Cepao, identified by Diz as the chief arranger at the television station, was involved with the recording Gillespie did with a samba band in the Hotel Gloria nightclub. "Cepao made an arrangement on something inspired by me, and I played with it," Dizzy explained. "They made some terrible breaks that sounded just like Charlie Parker and me. They wrote music that sounded like the lines we played and then put samba rhythms behind it. Cepao was the first to do that down there."

Jazz musicians are often praised (perhaps not often enough) for the adaptability and facility at their command that enables them to "get in the moment." I need not waste any words in explaining this phenomenon. Just listen to Dizzy’s creative, spontaneous alchemy in “Cepao’s Samba.”

Understanding will come to you much more directly and deeply. We not only hear this take but also the next one, unannounced. Both of his three-chorus solos, related but each a distinctive gem, will make your spirits soar.

On the next track, "Gloria Samba," Dizzy's muted horn joins with flute to carry the jaunty melody, but he has no solos.

The tracks with Fresedo place Gillespie into another domain but again reveal his faculty for fitting into a new situation, here exploring and instinctively understanding the dramatic draperies of the tango, as on "Preludio No. 3" and "Capricho de Amor," or the more lightheartedly romantic moods on "Adios Muchachos" and "Vida Mia," while remaining in character and, incidentally, reinforcing his reputation as a master of the coda.

Those of you who have either volumes 1 or 2 of Dizzy in South America know the power, precision and heart of the 1956 Gillespie orchestra. Here are two more examples, all previously unissued.

First up is "Yesterdays," featuring Phil Woods in an arrangement by Howie Kravitz, who, as Phil explains, "was a fellow student when I was at Juilliard." It is a welcoming chart, and the alto saxophonist decorates it with warmth, color and swing. Woods, who was with the band for both its Middle Eastern and South American tours, says this of his leader: "There was magic when Dizzy was in front of a band. There was magic wherever he was, but when he planted his feet and took his batting stance in front of you, look out! When he puffed his cheeks and hit one of those driving, fiery solos, you could see the energy and hear the gasps of delight from band and audience alike. You had to take care of biz when you played with Diz!"

All of the above applies to Gillespie’s solo on "A Night in Tunisia." This is not to say that there is anything shabby about Dizzy's solo on Volume I’s "Tunisia," but that one is more laid back — for Diz. This solo is of "jaw-dropping" dimensions. While my mandible was descending to the floor, the rest of my head was shaking itself in awe. I had to play it again before moving on to Benny Golson s tenor saxophone solo. The thrust of Benny's inspired improvisations are further proof of Phils adage that "you had to take care of biz." Bassist Nelson Boyd s solo changes the pace before Charlie Persip drums the shouting ensemble back onto the bridge. Frank Rehak’s trombone, in his instrument’s traditional role on Gillespie’s anthem, plays the last eight bars of the theme and then it’s Dizs coda.'Nuff said.

The spoken documentation of the tour originally consisted of three interview sessions. The first was conducted with Gillespie at the Continental Hotel in Buenos Aires, and you are aware of the Spanish translator in the background. Dizzy gives a history lesson and dispenses some nuggets from his deep well of wisdom. His reference to the elements necessary for the music to be truly considered jazz are equally applicable today — even more so.

The other two discussions were brought about by Dave Usher, who felt it was important to reunite some of the surviving members of the South American tour to share their remembrances. In 2000 he participated in one meeting with tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell (who, sad to say, passed away on April 18,2001), Charlie Persip and deejay Boo Frazier (Dizzy's cousin who served as an aide de camp on the tour) and another meeting with Benny Golson and trombonist Rod Levitt.

These tapings, quite naturally, contain many stories about the Gillespie band and the entire South American experience, but they go beyond that. The first includes tales of the Basie band, Dinah Washington, Lester Young and others, and the second contains references to Astor Piazzolla, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Lalo Schifrin.

In 2001 Usher taped three more interviews, with Quincy Jones, Phil Woods and Lalo Schifrin. Some of the same topics and people are discussed from other angles with ardor and insight; there are revelations about the effect of Dizzy’s tour on Jobim and Gilberto; and further testimony is offered on the widespread influence of Gillespie on the music of the 20th century. It is better listened to than described. Listen!

DIZZY IN SOUTH AMERICA Volume 3 is a unique combination of music and talk. Together with the preceding volumes it gives a vivid account of an important chapter in the life of one of the greatest musicians the world has ever seen and heard.”
—Ira Gitler

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