February 11, 2021

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Bebop 1945-1950: Dizzy Gillespie Big Band

February 11, 2021- Today's Bebop Era Topic: Dizzy Gillespie Big Band

At the Spotlite, Dizzy would be playing to a hip New York audience and both Monroe and Dizzy’s manager Billy Shaw were sure things would be different this time.

It couldn’t happen immediately though, he needed some time, not only to put a big band together but they would also need something to play. Dizzy did the first few weeks with a small group while these details were being worked out. 

At this point Dizzy’s collaborator Gil Fuller comes into the picture.   Gil was an arranger who understood Dizzy’s style and took on the difficult task of translating bebop to a large ensemble.

They first approached Billy Eckstine who no longer had his big band.   Eckstine let Fuller pick out ten charts and copy them.  This included some of the instrumentals that Tadd Dameron had written for Eckstine among others.  Fuller and Gillespie augmented those ten charts with brand new ones that Fuller was writing while the new band was starting to rehearse.  Eckstine also donated his music stands and microphones to help them get off the ground. 

They made their debut in early 1946 and played at the Spotlite for two months.  During that time the band made their first records for the Musicraft label.  Thelonious Monk was the original pianist but was often late and was replaced by John Lewis.  Other members of the original band included Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke and Milt Jackson.  James Moody came in early on as well.

Dizzy kept the big band through the rest of the nineteen forties touring and recording.  After his Musicraft contract ended he signed with RCA and those recordings reached a much larger audience.   Dizzy’s showmanship made him the ideal frontman for a big band and elevated his position as the face of the new music.   Dizzy’s signature beret and horned rim glasses became the image of modern jazz.

In 1947 Dizzy broke new ground by adding Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo to the rhythm section and introduced Cubop, the marriage of bebop and afro-cuban rhythm.   Chano Pozo, Dizzy Gillespie and Cubop will be our day long feature on February 19 so be sure and be listening.

In 1948 Dizzy’s Big Band did an oversees tour that brought bebop to Europe to the delight of thousands of fans.

The final big band sides were recorded for Capitol Records in 1950 and included a young John Coltrane in the saxophone section.

As a matter of fact, many outstanding young musicians worked with Dizzy’s big band during its four year existence. Some of the key figures included James Moody, Cecil Payne, Ernie Henry, Budd Johnson, Al McKibbon and Joe Harris.  Vocalists included Kenny Pancho Hagood, Joe Carroll and Johnny Hartman plus arrangers Gil Fuller, Tadd Dameron, George Russell, John Lewis and Gerald Wilson.  His rhythm section of John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown and Kenny Clarke later became the original Modern Jazz Quartet.

After those 1950 sessions Dizzy broke up the big band and went back to a small group format for the next few years.