A arts podcast from Academy of Achievement
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John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (1917 -1993), the American trumpeter, bandleader and composer, was the most visible and durable leader of the generation of musical iconoclasts who revolutionized jazz in the years following World War II. Along with now-legendary figures such as his friend and frequent collaborator Charlie Parker, Gillespie was a principal creator of the “Be-Bop” style. Breaking from the precise arrangements and massed section voicing of the Big Band Era, Gillespie’s Be-Bop emphasized exotic harmonies informed by modern classical music, a breakneck tempo that leaped ahead of the predictable rhythms of the dance floor, and breathtaking double-timed solos that placed an unprecedented demand on the musician’s technical prowess and powers of invention. Apart from his incendiary virtuosity on the trumpet, Gillespie made music history with his innovative compositions such as Night in Tunisia and Manteca. At the same time, he pioneered the fusion of jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the music of Africa. The sophisticated sound of Be-Bop embodied the rising aspirations of African Americans in the 1940s and '50s, while Gillespie’s fashions -- his beret, sunglasses and goatee -- made him an icon of cool to the avant-garde youth of the era. His showmanship, exuberant personality and impish sense of humor won an audience for intellectually challenging music that had met resistance when played by less extroverted artists. Although Be-Bop originally emphasized improvisation in small-group settings, Gillespie also enjoyed success leading large ensembles in his own complex compositions. In the 1950s and '60s, he became a musical ambassador for the United States, taking his band to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The infectious appeal of Gillespie’s music, and his deep curiosity about the music of other lands won friends for the United States around the world. To the end of his life he remained a champion of younger artists and new sounds. His influence on the development of music around the world has been profound and inescapable. This podcast was recorded during Dizzy Gillespie’s appearance before the Academy of Achievement in New York City in 1991.
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