Dizzy Gillespie: Compositions, Trumpet & Latin Jazz

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  • 0:05 Dizzy
  • 0:40 Dizzy the Trumpeter…
  • 2:24 Bebop and Afro-Cuban Jazz
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the performance and composition styles of jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Then, you'll be able to test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Trumpet player

Look at this musician. Notice anything…unusual? Those of you who are trumpet players may notice how puffed out his cheeks are. You're not supposed to do that when you play the trumpet. Even those of you without musical know-how may also notice something about that trumpet, like how the bell points up. That's not really standard. Well, that's John Birks 'Dizzy' Gillespie, a jazz musician of the 20th century noted for his crooked trumpet, puffed cheeks, and, most of all, his genre-defining musical style.

Dizzy the Trumpeter and Composer

Dizzy Gillespie is known as one of the greatest trumpet players ever, and one that was years ahead of his time. Gillespie's personal style of trumpet performance, which he perfected in the 1940s, was so complex that it was nearly 30 years until other artists started emulating it. And, yes, part of his sound came from that bent trumpet. According to one story, a dancer tripped on his trumpet while it was on stage, and he had to play with the bell bent out of shape. The damage altered the tone, and Dizzy realized that he liked the new sound. So, he commissioned the Martin Band Instrument Company of Indiana to make him a trumpet with a bent bell, and it became his signature instrument.

Apart from his sound, Dizzy Gillespie's fame as a trumpeter stemmed from the fact that he was unbelievably talented at improvisation. Improv is one of the cornerstones of jazz music, and Gillespie's style was undeniably unique. At all times he was focused on rhythm - stretching it, bending it, and pushing it to the limits of what was possible in jazz music.

Now, just so we're all on the same page, improv is when a musician makes up the melody on the spot, all while staying in key, meeting the chord changes of the rest of the band, and maintaining the tempo. Dizzy Gillespie was one of the fastest improv musicians in jazz, inventing melodies that ran up and down and all over the place, all at a tempo many musicians simply avoided. And it wasn't just mindless chord progressions that he was playing; a Gillespie improvisation had personality. It was happy or sad, suspenseful or comedic, with unexpected pauses and complex rhythms.

Bebop and Afro-Cuban Jazz

Now, we know that Dizzy Gillespie was a jazz musician, but there are several kinds of jazz music. The style we most often associate with Dizzy is bebop, a fast-tempo jazz style with melodies and solos that often seemed unrelated but were actually connected. Bebop was just emerging in the 1940s, and Gillespie was one of the key figures in popularizing it. This wasn't easy to do. At the time, the most popular styles of jazz music were all focused on dancing. Swing, especially, was very popular because people could dance to it.

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