Remembering Dizzy

Each year, we celebrate Dizzy Gillespie's birth on Oct. 21. Local 802 members reminisce about their experience playing with the legendary trumpeter...

Volume 117, No. 10October, 2017

Photo: Roland Godefroy via Wikipedia.

I had the pleasure of touring Europe in 1987 for three weeks with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. It was an all-star band, including Jon Faddis, James Moody, Britt Woodman, Jerry Dodgion, Steve Turre, Frank Lacy, Glenn Drewes, Virgil Jones and Howard Johnson. During the first or second rehearsal, we were playing either “A Night in Tunisia” or “Things to Come.” We got to the solo section and Dizzy started blowing. I was enjoying the fact that I was actually listening to Dizzy blow in person when Jon Faddis leaned over to me and said, “ We’re all going to take a couple choruses after Dizzy.” I looked at him and laughed because I thought he was joking. Jon, Virgil, and Glenn are great jazz trumpet soloists – I am not! So I assumed they would blow and I would just sit back and listen to them. That didn’t happen. When Dizzy finished, he turned around and pointed to me. I was like a deer caught in headlights! I shook my head “no” but Dizzy just waved his arm as if to say “C’mon, blow!” Faddis just smiled and said “Go on!” Can you imagine having to solo after Dizzy? Well, I was nervous but I did it. And I guess it went well enough because when I was done, Dizzy smiled and nodded.

– Earl Gardner (trumpet)

During our European tour of 1981, Dizzy was standing at the entrance of a luxurious hotel in Paris wearing a British cape and double brim hat he just had purchased in London. A limo pulled up to the hotel and the driver thought that Diz was a bellhop. The driver whistled loud to Diz and ordered him to put his customer’s luggage in the trunk. So Dizzy immediately did what he was asked to do, but when the car was pulling away, Gillespie energetically demanded his tip, while putting out his hand. Probably that guy would never realize that the man who carried his bags was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, with a sense of humor bigger than himself. There was just one and only Dizzy!

– Paquito D’Rivera (saxophone)

In 1988, I had one of the nicest opportunities in my musical career. Dizzy Gillespie was putting together a big band to do several U.S. concerts followed by a tour of Europe for several weeks. Jon Faddis called to ask if I would like to be a part of it and, of course, I was thrilled to do it. I had worked with Mr. Gillespie on a few occasions when he would be a special guest for a couple of tunes on concerts but had never had the chance to experience his genius up close for any length of time. It truly was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life. The band was filled with legendary players. Jerry Dodgion on alto sax, Sam Rivers on tenor, Garnett Brown on trombone as well as Dennis Wilson and Doug Purviance, James Williams at the piano, Jon Faddis, Virgil Jones, Byron Stripling and John Marshall on trumpets, Ignacio Berroa on drums, John Lee on bass, and Ed Cherry on guitar. It was heaven. We traveled all over Europe that summer and I was always amazed at the reception for Dizzy everywhere we went. It was like traveling with the Pope, if the Pope had also been the father of bebop and one of the greatest trumpet players of all time. He always had time to say hello and shake hands with all the people that came up to greet him. His attitude and sense of humor never wavered. He was truly one of the greatest American ambassadors of all time. I barely slept during that whole tour, mainly because I didn’t want to miss a second of what was happening. The thrill of hearing Dizzy Gillespie every night and experience his incredible warmth and kindness during the day on the bus still stays with me today. He was an American treasure!

– Keith O’Quinn (trombone)

I was lucky enough to be in the trumpet section for Dizzy’s 70th birthday tour in 1987. Besides Dizzy, the trumpet section was Jon Faddis, Earl Gardner, Virgil Jones and myself. We kicked off the tour with a Carnegie Hall concert also featuring Wynton Marsalis’ quintet. We toured three weeks in Europe. On every concert, Diz would feature the trumpets on “A Night In Tunisia” and “Things To Come.” We would come down front on “Tunisia” and Diz would be standing by the piano checking us out. What a thrill to be playing that tune in front of the master he was!

– Glenn Drewes (trumpet)

I played with Dizzy for three years, from 1976 to 1979. I once asked Dizzy why he seemed to play some of the same musical phrases over and over throughout the years. His reply was priceless. With a wry smile he said, “Why mess with perfection?” I got the message. He had found and was playing himself. He was a master. Dizzy told me the most difficult person he ever had to play with was Art Tatum because of Tatum’s brilliant harmonic ability. Dizzy told me that Clark Terry was the person who he felt really understood how he played the most. He told me that the key to a successful musical career is knowing what to play…when.

– Rodney Jones (guitar)

The year was 1980. I had just come out with an album of solo piano music recorded at the Barge concert hall under the Brooklyn Bridge. I was going over to Dizzy’s home in Englewood, New Jersey, to play chess with him and I took a copy of the recording over for him. He was listening to it as we played chess. He had a funny way of teaching you things in a way that you didn’t immediately recognize that you were being taught something. He asked me if I had ever tried this rhythm between my right and left hands. He proceeded to show me this rhythmic figure. He then said, “Wait a minute.” And he got up and put on this 8-track tape machine with him playing a different percussion instrument on each track such as congas, shakers, cowbells, etc. As I listened he asked me where “One” was and I said “One” where everyone would have heard it. He then said, “Put it over here.” It was in this strange place. When I did what he suggested I started to hear something entirely different and unique which gave me this most tickled and joyous feeling. I thought to myself, “Geez, this is a totally different way to hear music.” He then got his horn out and asked me to comp this particular chord on the piano behind what he was playing. As I played, I thought, “Let me try that rhythm he showed me.” As soon as I did, this magical four-part contrapuntal texture jumped off the piano as if by magic. He had this sly grin on his face that let me know he knew that was going to happen. I then began hearing this strange quality in his sound and I realized he was playing with that “One” in that strange place. From playing behind him I must have picked it up in my touch because when I got back to my apartment in NYC I was still able to play like that. I had the good sense to record my playing and the next day I was able to wig out what I was doing to get to that, even though I didn’t know what it was. About a month later I get a call from Dizzy in Amsterdam saying he had a gig at the Mayport Jazz Festival in Jacksonville, Florida, and he wanted me to put a rhythm section together and fly them down there to play the gig with him. I got Ben Brown on bass and Mickey Roker on drums and we met Dizzy down there and played the gig. During the concert, he played “Salt Peanuts” at a tempo that was breakneck fast and I ripped off this solo that caused Dizzy to run across the stage and grab me and hug me. He said, “See, you don’t need anybody to play like that. It doesn’t matter what the other guys are doing.” A few weeks later he went to Florida to my parents’ home to relax for a week. (He would do this frequently, as by now he had become a “member” of our family.) He went to hear a musician down there who was a friend that I had grown up with and had met Diz through me. Around 4 a.m. I got a call from my friend asking me, “What the hell did you do in Jacksonville?” When I asked why he replied “Dizzy can’t stop talking about it.” I related to him that I had learned something really special from Dizzy that I didn’t understand but could do. He said, “Well, he can’t stop talking about it and he keeps raving about your playing.” Dizzy was not only a profound player but a profound teacher as well.

–Michael Longo (piano)


In previous years, Allegro published reminiscences of Dizzy Gillespie by JIMMY OWENS and DAVID AMRAM.

Jimmy Owens: “Dizzy was a natural-born teacher. He was also a wonderful composer, arranger, humanitarian, historian, comedian, and the world’s greatest trumpet player.” Read more at

David Amram: “Dizzy tried to make everybody comfortable – including members of the audience – and bring them into the music rather than using music as a weapon to intimidate people.” Read more at