Groovin' High: Dave Douglas Shares Top Five Dizzy Tracks

Dave Douglas image courtesy artist, Dizzy image by William P Gottlieb, courtesy Library of Congress

News | Feb, 16th 2018

Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas returns to The Appel Room with another one-of-a-kind program February 23rd and 24th. In Dizzy Atmosphere, Douglas will use Gillespie repertoire as a starting point for improvisation and exploration.

Joining him is a powerhouse group of improvisers and composers known for their thoughtful and exciting contributions to practically any musical context: trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Linda May Han Oh, drummer Joey Baron, and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Ahead of the performance, we asked Dave to share five Dizzy tracks that have him Groovin' High.

One of the special things about Dizzy Gillespie’s music and legacy is how many people he touched. Talk to anyone who spent time with him and played with him, and you hear about the humanity, the humor, the positive outlook and the profound depth of his experience. I’m humbled to be among these acolytes.

Jazz at Lincoln Center asked me to list some tracks that excite me, in advance of the premiere of my new project, Dizzy Atmosphere. These are a few recordings that have inspired me over the last year and a half working on the project, Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity. Can’t wait to hit the stage with these wonderful musicians: Ambrose Akinmusire, Bill Frisell, Gerald Clayton, Linda May Han Oh, and Joey Baron.

Dizzy’s first known recorded solo, with Teddy Hill and His Orchestra. Great original song by Jelly Roll Morton, recorded by many artists through the years. Dizzy puts his stamp on the phrasing early on—this session puts him among his elders and mentors.

Early Dizzy Gillespie composition, written for Cab Calloway, one of his early important engagements. Hits a great stride right away, lots of swinging details within the ensemble work, and a great example, for me, of musicians playing together collaboratively to achieve a great effect. Always leads to one of the enduring questions in listening to composers in jazz and improvised music: How did they do that? What did they say to the musicians to get them to make that sound?

One of the earliest examples of Afro-Cuban collaboration and this became one of Dizzy’s standards known as Woody n You. One of the great things about hearing this version is to note how much the piece grew and changed over the years. Listen to any later Gillespie recording of this piece and you’ll hear all the new corners and angles that accrued over time. Many of them added by other artists in homage to Dizzy.

A friend, upon hearing this, said, 'I’ve never heard anything quite so bebop.' Maybe it’s the tritones (flatted fifths or raised fourths)? Maybe it’s the lyrics? Anyway, it was composed for Dizzy’s band by Mary Lou Williams. Classic performance with a great Dizzy solo and superb ensemble work. And they got to Oo-Bla-Dee 20 years before the Beatles.

One of the many amazing things about this recording is that it features the young trumpeter Lee Morgan as a soloist in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. An inspiring gesture from Dizzy—to be so generous as to promote the younger trumpeter who was clearly finding his own way in the music. Other than that, one must point out the fluidity of the band moving through this arrangement. They sound like one person. And when compared to the original studio recording of this piece, the sense of progress, movement and growth is palpable.

These are just five of the many reasons I love Dizzy Gillespie.


-Dave Douglas

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