Dizzy Gillespie was born John Birks Gillespie on October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina, the youngest of nine children of James and Lottie Gillespie. His father, a local bandleader, made instruments available to the children. He started playing the piano at the age of four and taught himself how to play the trombone as well as the trumpet by the age of twelve. From the night he heard his idol, Roy Eldridge, play on the radio, he dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. Receiving a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, he attended for two years before accompanying his family when they moved to Philadelphia.
Gillespie’s first professional job was with the Frank Fairfax Orchestra in 1935, after which he joined the respective orchestras of Edgar Hayes and Teddy Hill, essentially replacing Roy Eldridge as first trumpet in 1937 and making his first recording as part of the band on King Porter Stomp. He would move on to play with Cab Calloway, alongside Cozy Cole, Milt Hinton and Jonah Jones until an altercation with Calloway got him fired. During his period he started writing big band music for bandleaders like Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey while freelancing with a few bands – most notably Ella Fitzgerald’s orchestra, comprised of members of the late Chick Webb’s band, in 1942. Avoiding service in World War II, he joined the Earl Hines band followed by a stint with Billy Eckstine’s big band, got reunited with Charlie Parker and finally left to play with a small combo of quintet size.
A forerunner of the evolution of bebop along with Parker, Monk, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Oscar Pettiford, Dizzy helped shape a new vocabulary of musical phrases. They jammed at Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House with compositions like Groovin’ High, Woody ‘n’ You, Salt Peanuts and A Night In Tunisia that also introduced Afro-Cuban rhythms.
As an educator Gillespie taught or influenced many of the young musicians on 52nd Street including Miles Davis, Max Roach, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Chuck Mangione and even balladeer Johnny Hartman about the new style of jazz, but after ambivalent or hostile reception in Billy Berg’s Los Angeles club, he decided to lead his own big band, though unsuccessful at his first attempt in 1945. He went on to work with Milt Jackson, John Coltrane, Lalo Schifrin, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, James Moody, J.J. Johnson and Yusef Lateef, whole appearing as a soloist for Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic.
In 1948 Dizzy lost his ability to hit the B-flat above high C due to an automobile hitting the bicycle he was riding. He won the case, but the jury awarded him only $1000, in view of his high earnings up to that point. Not to be sidelined, he went on tour for the State Department earning himself the title Ambassador of Jazz. His new big band would tour the U.S. and record a live album at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and featured pianist Mary Lou Williams.
Dizzy immersed himself in the Afro-Cuban movement and hired Chano Pozo and Mario Bauza to play in his bands on 52nd Street, the Palladium and the Apollo Theater. He co-wrote with Pozo the songs Manteca and Tin Tin Deo, commissioned George Russell’s Cubano Be, Cubano Bop, and discovered Arturo Sandoval while on a music researching trip to Cuba.
As his tone gradually faded in the last years in life his performances often focused more on his protégés, such as, Arturo Sandoval and Jon Faddis, all the while keeping his good-humored comedic routines a part of his live act. Dizzy would go on to give 300 performances in 27 countries, appeared in 100 U.S. cities in 31 states and the District of Columbia, headline three television specials, performed with two symphonies, and recorded four albums.
Gillespie put himself on the ballot as a write-in candidate of the 1964 Presidential election, published his autobiography, To Be or Not To Bop, was a vocal fixture in many of the John & Faith Hubley’s animated films, such as The Hole, The Hat and Voyage to Next. He led the United Nation Orchestra, toured with Flora Purim and David Sanchez in his band, received Grammy nominations, guested on The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and The Cosby Show and had a cameo on Stevie Wonder’s hit Do I Do and Quincy Jones’ Back On The Block.
Inducted into the Down Beat Magazine’s Jazz Hall of Fame, Dizzy was also honored by being crowned a traditional chief in Nigeria, received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France, and was named Regent Professor by the university of California, received fourteen honorary doctorates, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Polar Music Prize, a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, the Kennedy Center Honors Award, and the Ameican Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Duke Ellington Award for 50 years of achievement. Composer, performer, bandleader and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie passed away of pancreatic cancer on January 6, 1993 in Englewood, New Jersey at the age of 75. In 2014, Gillespie was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
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Chucho Valdés was born Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, the son of famed pianist Bebo Valdés, on October 9, 1941 in Quivican, La Habana, Cuba. His first recording sessions as a leader took place in early 1964 at Areíto Studios of Havana. These early sessions included Paquito D’Rivera on alto saxophone and clarinet, trombonist Alberto Giral, flutist Julio Vento, Carlos Emilio Morales on guitar, Kike Hernández on double bass, Emilio del Monte on drums and Óscar Valdés Jr. on congas.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, these would be the members of his jazz combo, whose lineup would often change, sometimes including bassists Cachaito and later Carlos del Puerto, and drummers Guillermo Barreto and later Enrique Pla. In 1967, Valdés and his band mates became founding members of Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, together with many other well-known Cuban musicians. This all-star big band would back singers such as Elena Burke and Omara Portuondo.
By 1973, Chucho along with other members of the Orquesta founded Irakere that bridged songo and Afro-Cuban jazz. He would simultaneously continue his solo career, eventually signing with Blue Note Records, which allowed him to realize international exposure.
In the late 1990s, he focused on his solo career, leaving directorship of Irakere to his pianist son Chuchito. He played occasionally with his father until his death in 2013. Since 2010, Chucho performs with a backing band known as The Afro-Cuban Messengers.
Pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés, whose career spans over 50 years, has received critical media acclaim, won five Grammy Awards, contributed two original compositions to Roy Hargrove’s Crisol band’s Havana project, and was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He has two dozen albums recorded as a leader and continues to perform, compose record and tour.
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Tata Güines was born Federico Arístides Soto Alejo on June 30, 1930 in, the poor town of Güines east of La Habana in the province of Havana in Cuba. He made his first drums out of milk cartons and sausages. But, by the 1950s he was working with such top Cuban musicians as Arsenio Rodriguez, Luciano “Chano” Pozo, Bebo Valdes, and Israel “Chachao” Lopez.
In the late 1950s he formed a band with the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn called Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, which was later changed to Los Amigos. Güines moved to New York City in 1957 and quickly immersed himself in the jazz scene paying with Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis at Birdland. As a percussionist, he performed with Josephine Baker and Frank Sinatra.
Tata returned to Cuba in 1959 after Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban Revolution which he helped fund by contributions from his earnings as a musician. For a while instrumentalists fell out of favor with the Cuban public and his popularity diminished. However, by 1979 his star began to shine once again with his work in the Estrellas de Areito sessions, recording for Egrem, the Cuban state record company, which revived the old descarga style.
By the 1990s, he was considered an old master and frequently toured. He recorded with the young conguero Miguel Diaz on the 1995 Pasaporte that garnered them the Egrem Album of the Year award, the equivalent of a Grammy in Cuba. He has played with pianist Bebo Valdes and singer Diego El Cigala Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears) that won a Latin Grammy, and has performed with saxophonist Jane Bunnett.
Conguero and tumbadora player, percussionist and composer Tata Güines, who during his career spanning six decades was known as the “King of the Congas” and who was important in the first generation of Afro-Cuban jazz, passed away on February 4, 2008 in his hometown of Havana.
Andrea Brachfeld was born on May 3, 1955 and grew up in a household where it was mandatory to take the piano. She began her study at age six for seven years but at age 10 she discovered she could I found out of class if she took flute. Adding the instrument to her lessons she entered the High School of Music and Art in 1969, majoring in the flute. There she met and played with, Noel Pointer, Nat Adderley Jr., Dave Valentín, as well as Angie Bofill, Kenny Kirkland, Fred Hersch and Rodney Jones among many other musicians. But it was Noel who taught her how to write music down.
She went on to attend the Manhattan School of Music and study with Hubert Laws, Jimmy Heath, George Coleman, and Mike Longo, who helped her develop her own improvisational style. She began her professional career as a musician at age 16, composing music for the quartet she put together. Her breakthrough moment came in performance as the flutist for the popular Latin band Charanga ’76, catapulted her into Salsa history and fame as the first female flutist to play this music in the United States.
Andrea has performed and recorded jazz, Latin jazz, Charanga, funk, country western, and devotional music. She received the Louis Armstrong Award, Chico O’Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award, the Pionero Award, and the Tribute to the Charanga Flutes. She has six CDs out as a leader, another 17 as a side woman and is a member of the Wallace Roney, “Universe” Orchestra playing Wayne Shorter’s long lost music originally written for Miles Davis.
She has presented her flute and composition workshops and has performed with Hubert Laws, Rufus Reid, Winard Harper, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Nestor Torres, Wallace Roney, Dave Valentín, Wycliffe Gordon, Hilton Ruiz, Steve Turre and Wayne Wallace. Flutist, piccolo player, composer and educator Andrea Brachfeld continues to perform and record.
Tito Puente was born Ernesto Antonio Puente on April 20, 1923 at Harlem Hospital in New York City and spent the majority of his childhood in Spanish Harlem. As a child his mother sent him to 25-cent piano lessons and by the age of 10, he switched to percussion, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa. He later created a song-and-dance duo with his sister Anna in the 1930s, intending to become a dancer, but an ankle tendon injury prevented him pursuing dance as a career. When the drummer in Machito’s band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place.
After serving three years in the Navy during WW II, Tito used the GI Bill to study music at Juilliard School of Music, taking conducting, orchestration and theory. During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds, like mambo, son, and cha-cha-cha to mainstream audiences. He moved into more diverse sounds, including pop music, bossa nova and others, eventually settling down with a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres that became known as “salsa” (a term that he disliked).
Tito has received the key to the City of New York, the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal from the Smithsonian and been inducted into the National Congressional Record. He has won five Grammy Awards, and won a Grammy at the first Latin Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Tropical Album for Mambo Birdland. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 and has his timbales on display at theSmithsonian.
He has had a post office in Spanish Harlem named after him, an amphitheater in San Juan Puerto Rico, performed at the closing ceremonies for the 1996 Olympics, appeared as himself on the Simpsons episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,
In early 2000, he shot the music documentary Calle 54. After a show in Puerto Rico, percussionist, timbale player and bandleader Tito Puente suffered a massive heart attack and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve but complications developed and he died during the night of May 31 – June 1, 2000.
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