There are few portraits more beloved in jazz than that of Dizzy Gillespie playing his upturned horn, cheeks billowing as notes come cascading out. Gillespie skillfully navigated the tight line between artistry and entertainment, spearheading radical changes in jazz technique while remaining extremely popular throughout his career. Despite being self-taught, he had phenomenal technical facility and could execute intricate passages with ease and insert a warm, engaging lyricism into every solo.
Author and longtime jazz concert producer Donald L. Maggin's authoritative Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie is not only the first complete biography of the bebop legend, it explains Gillespie's musical innovations in precise language that doesn't confuse novices or alienate knowledgeable players and fans. Maggin emphasizes Gillespie's role as a soloist, bandleader and musical thinker. He credits Gillespie's family with instilling in him both the discipline and hunger essential for success and enough self-esteem to overcome the racist attitudes toward blacks he endured while growing up in South Carolina (where he witnessed the lynching of a member of his high school band).
Dizzy carefully traces Gillespie's two major legacies. One was his participation with saxophonist Charlie Parker, drummer Kenny Clarke, pianist Thelonious Monk and guitarist Charlie Christian in the bebop revolution. The second came through his collaborations with bandleader Mario Bauza in the late '40s. They brought the multi-textured beats and syncopation of Africa and Cuba into jazz, enabling the style to expand its rhythmic reach and broaden its compositional framework.
Maggin also covers the complex relationship between Gillespie and Parker, his emergence as an international ambassador and spokesperson for the Baha'i faith, his 53-year marriage, and his role as mentor to numerous musicians. Maggin's book effectively documents the many changes pioneered by Gillespie, who never lost contact with either the experimental or traditional wings of the jazz world. Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville City Paper and several other publications.