DIZZY GILLESPIE ALL-STAR BAND
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall - Troy, NY
March 10, 2006
by J Hunter
John Birks Dizzy Gillespie lived a life of accomplishment: World-class trumpet player, co-inventor of the Bebop style, and champion bullfrog impersonator, to name just a few. What gets left behind in the focus on Dizzy's unsurpassed personality is Gillespie's vast work as a writer and arranger, not only for his own groups, but also for big-band legends like Woody Herman and Cab Calloway. The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band came to Troy to change that, bringing with them two sets of Dizzy's arrangements from the 40s and 50s. And almost every song had a story to tell.
They're all clean, trombonist/musical director Slide Hampton quickly assured us. We're too old to tell dirty jokes. The stories started before the music, as Hampton introduced the Herman tune Woody & You by explaining how Dizzy couldn't get work as a player after a fight with former employer Calloway, but he paid the rent with writing. It was like that all night long, as Hampton and his mates walked us through over two hours of music almost every jazz fan knows, but may or may not attribute to Gillespie.
Dizzy was supposed to have been inspired to write Con Alma after hearing All The Things You Are (If you hear 'All The Things You Are' in this, Hampton laughed, please tell me about it!); Dizzy's co-invention, Bebop (represented by, coincidentally, Bebop), had a lot in common with the Baroque period of music, in that You not only had to be a virtuoso, but you also had to know a lot about music because of the improvisation that was such a necessary element (A lot of the work Bach wrote was improvisational, Hampton informed us.); Groovin' High was about
Okay, maybe some things are best left unexplained.
Let me explain why Gillespie's work as a jazz ambassador was his most important accomplishment. Like Satchmo before him and Wynton after him, Dizzy brought jazz to the world. But he also brought the world back to us - both its musicians (Joao Gilberto, Lalo Schifrin, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez) and its music. Fiesta Mucho and Con Alma showed Dizzy's love for Latin rhythms, and the encore A Night In Tunisia would not have been possible without the sounds Gillespie heard on Voice of America tours of the Middle East.
Dizzy was always a touchstone for young musicians, and it was the young musicians that made this evening. Roy Hargrove was the perfect technical choice to take the trumpet chair here, both in power and nuance, and the wide grin he wore throughout the evening (particularly during the vocal section of 1st-set closer Salt Peanuts) showed he was having the time of his life. The same can be said for alto saxman Justin Robinson, who breathed fire out his bell all night long. Drummer (and Ron Carter lookalike) Dennis Mackrell kept the beat rolling all night long, occasionally favoring us with solos that were both tasty and tasteful. Benny Green was pinch-hitting for Uber-pianist Mulgrew Miller, who had a previous engagement in Scotland. While most of his solos were uneventful, Green provided the same stellar support he once gave the Ray Brown Trio, even contributing an elegant rendition of Misty during the 2nd set.
Ironically, the show's weaknesses came from the people that were directly linked to Dizzy. Longtime Gillespie bassist John Lee seemed to struggle with his electric bass, both in background and solos; an electric bass was a bad choice for this music anyway. While Hampton shone in the role of wise man and jazz educator, his solos paled next to his younger frontline mates, both in power and content.
The biggest shame was that the Hall was only half-filled on this night, and a face younger than mine was hard to find. That's a shame, regardless of any weaknesses in the performance. Maybe some of these artists didn't ring the bells for the younger jazz fans in the region, but when it comes to the music and legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, Arthur Miller said it best: Attention must be paid.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.