My earliest recollection of Dizzy Gillespie comes, without a doubt, from “The Cosby Show.” Like a child, I was both overtly amused and implicitly scared of the perplexing nature of this puffy-cheeked man. At the time, however, he was simply “Mr. Hampton,” the music teacher of the hopelessly lost Vanessa Huxtable. His sprightly demeanor and jovial approach to teaching turned my eyes the darkest shade of green as I unwillingly trudged off to engage with the likes of my own childhood music instructor, whose strict musical guidelines were only surpassed by her ornery disposition. But, alas, Mr. Hampton was nothing more than a fictional character in the mind of Bill Cosby.
Growing older, I was rightfully exposed to the marijuana-toking, bent-trumpet playing genius who defined the methodology of his respective instrument. Adorned in a signature beret and beatnik sensibilities, Dizzy was the prototype of Bebop chic. While I never got to take lessons from Mr. Hampton, Gillespie taught me a valuable lesson in not only musical functionality, but the importance of form.
His exterior presentation matched his method of play — unexpectedly cool, continuously trendsetting and daring, but always smooth. While never completely straying from his Bebop roots, he was more than comfortable intertwining his sound amongst others, most notably the Afro-Cuban exploration that brought the world both great artists and timeless records.
In one instance, his audience was left holding on to every single note, as they sat on the edge of their seats wanting more. And in just a moment’s time, this exact same audience could be found, in the most raucous of fashions, falling prey to his sensational flare and comedic impeccability. Dizzy was the consummate entertainer. With or without that signature horn in his hands, he always knew how to be great. And for that I raise my glass to him and his beautiful spirit.
Happy Birthday, Diz.
Written By: Paul Pennington