To observe the 94th birthday anniversary of Dizzy Gillespie, I’m posting the uncut transcript of a conversation with five of his distinguished acolytes — James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, John Lee, and Claudio Roditi, all playing with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band at the Blue Note five years ago — that ran in edited form in DownBeat.
Dizzy Gillespie Forum (Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, John Lee, James Moody, Claudio Roditi) – (Blue Note, June 20, 2006):
TP: My first question for Slide and for Jimmy Heath is: What are the dynamics of Dizzy Gillespie’s music that make it possible for a band like this to function in 2006. What makes the music so fresh and such a vehicle for your creativity?
SLIDE: I think that Dizzy’s music when he was writing it was so far in advance that today it sounds like something that might have been written today. It was a big inspiration, because a lot of people don’t know that Dizzy was a great arranger and orchestrator, and he inspired a lot of the guys that were orchestrating and arranging at that time. That was their thing that they did mainly, was to arrange, and Dizzy wrote some wonderful arrangements, and we’re going to play some of them tonight. The approach to the arrangements that he made is the thing that inspired us to write. Actually, when we hear his stuff, it makes us feel like he’s the teacher and we’re the students.
TP: Just to get technical about it, what are some of the things he innovated that are very present in the vocabulary of modern jazz?
HEATH: I think Dizzy instituted the rhythm aspect of the music. He really concentrated on that as well as the harmonic. Between the two, the marrying of the two the way he did, it brought about a different sound because of the Afro influence and the European harmony with this Afro groove. That’s what made it so special. The combination is a marriage like bread and butter.
TP: Was that modernity always there from when he and Gil Fuller did the first charts for the big band in 1946?
MOODY: I think it was always there. Now, I can’t speak from the standpoint of Slide or Jimmy because I don’t write, and I’m not as knowledgeable as they are, and I wasn’t then, but I’m trying to come to grips with what WAS happening then. It was so deep, because when I joined the band, Thelonious Monk was the piano player, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Cecil Payne – like that.
TP: Jimmy just made a genuflecting gesture.
MOODY: What happens is, I look back and… Jimmy wrote a composition called “Without You, No Me,” which meant that if there had never been a Dizzy Gillespie, there wouldn’t be a Jimmy Heath. I feel the same way myself, even though I have to say what Jimmy said – but what he said first was true. People always ask me, “Well, what was it like being there in 1946?
TP: In the Spotlite Club on 52nd Street, right?
MOODY: Yeah, in the Spotlite. Man, all I know is, I was there, I was 21, and it felt good and nice, but man, what was happening around me, I didn’t know.
TP: Do you have any recollection of how the audience responded?
MOODY: Well, they were wonderful. But let me get to this point. Gerald Wilson brought an arrangement… No, it wasn’t Gerald Wilson. I guess it was Gil Fuller who did it. He kept doing it… I said, “This note is wrong here, just this note.” “No, it’s okay. Cool.” I said, “Diz, this note is…” He said, “No-no.” I said, “Diz…” “Moody, shut up!” It was a flat five. I mean, if you don’t know, you don’t know. But the point is that… What I’m saying is, like, you don’t have to tell somebody you don’t know. People know when you don’t know. And I didn’t know for the longest time. Now I’m trying to come to grips with what it was…not what it was, but what it is. Because I’m telling you. It will take a lifetime. Nicholas Slonimsky said in his book on the source of melodic patterns that in order to exhaust the possibilities of a chromatic scale, you’d have to live 2000 years. But what’s coming out of Diz and Monk, I mean, you have to live 2000 years to be able to do it. Unfortunately, a lot of us are only going to make it to 100.
HEATH: There’s one thing that I want to say, and that is: What WAS good, IS good.
MOODY: You hear that?
HEATH: What was good, IS good.
MOODY: You hear that?
HEATH: So Dizzy’s music was good during that time. It still is good. If you say Bach and Beethoven, if that was good, it’s still good. Stuff don’t just disappear and change and be bad over a period of time – if it’s good! But if it’s sad, it’s sad. And it’s going to stay sad. But if it’s good, it’s going to stay good.
TP: Jimmy Heath and Moody, when did you first become aware of Dizzy Gillespie.
MOODY: I met Dizzy when I was 18 years old, and I was in the Air Force at Greensboro, North Carolina. Dizzy came down and played at the place where we had our entertainment. It was a segregated base. One quarter was Negro; the other three quarters was Caucasian. He came and played for us at a place called the Big Top, and it was the Big Tent. That’s where I met him. That’s where I met him with Dave Burns and Joe Gales. So what happened was, Dizzy said… We were going to be discharged in about 3 or 4 months, and Dizzy said, “Come and try out for the band in New York.” So after we were discharged, that’s what I did. I went with Dave and we tried out for the band, and Dave made it. I didn’t, because Walter Fuller said, “You don’t play loud enough!” So I went home, man. I was doing a gig, making $7 a night, man, a lot of money, at Lloyd’s Manor. About three months later I got a telegram from David Burns saying, “you start with us tonight.” So I went and joined the band at the Spotlite, and David Burns told me, “The only thing you got to watch out for is this thing,” [SINGS LINE OF “Things To Come”] He showed me the line on that thing. So the other part, I read… So I had it down!
TP: Didn’t Percy meet Dizzy before you did?
HEATH: Percy was a Tuskegee airman, and I was on the road with Nat Towles’ Orchestra in Omaha, Nebraska. Percy told me, “Jimmy, you should quite and come back home if you like this new music, bebop, so much, because I met Dizzy Gillespie.” When I quit the band, which I was going to quit anyway, I came back to Philly. And I found out that Dizzy didn’t even know Percy’s name. He just called him “Lieutenant.” Because it was an honor to have a black pilot and a Lieutenant. So as it happened, I got in the band before Percy did. What we did as the Heath Brothers, me and Percy, we put on our berets and our artist ties, like Dizzy’s band had, and followed him. If they played in Wilmington, Delaware, we would be right in front of the band. If they played at the Savoy, we’d be right there. If they played the Apollo, we’d be right there. Dizzy said, “There’s the Heath Brothers!” – until we got a gig!
MOODY: Jimmy told me, “We followed the band until he gave us a gig.”
TP: What did the music sound like to you when you first heard it? Was it shocking to you?
SLIDE: It was a shock. We had been hearing about “Things to Come.” I was in my house once, and coming from another part of the house I heard this music start. My brother had found the CD, and I didn’t know it. When he started playing, I said, “That’s ‘Things To Come.’” – and I had never heard it before. But when I heard this new music, I knew what it was. It was really a wonderful, wonderful shock. The first thing I heard was “Our Delight,” and I was sitting in an outdoor place having a sandwich, and they started playing this introduction – and I almost fell off the stool that I was on because the way they were moving the harmony, which was not usual.
But the thing that I’ve got to say is that I do realize when I hear the great arrangements of Gil Fuller and Dizzy and Tadd Dameron, that the music that came before, the arrangements of Jimmy Mundy and those guys had a big influence on those orchestrations. Because those guys wrote the ensemble so that it sounded really full, and when Gil and them came along with the new music, their ensembles sounded really full, too. It wasn’t a weakness because it was a new harmony. They still had that fullness that actually came from the period of guys like Jimmy Mundy, Ernie Wilkins and all of these guys…
HEATH: And Sy Oliver.
SLIDE: Sy Oliver and Benny Carter.
HEATH: But I had heard “Bebop.” I had heard the records because my mother and father had a friend who had a record store in Philadelphia. So whenever anything new would come out, boom, they’d get it. “Hey, we got a new Dizzy Gillespie, come on by,” and we’d go get it. That’s how it happened. And when I heard “Things To Come,” I was very excited by it. But I heard “Bebop” with Billy Eckstine’s band. They used to do that in 1944.
TP: The tune “Bebop” or bebop the style?
HEATH: The tune. They used that for a signoff to take intermission. [SINGS IT] “Now we’re going to take a break.” That’s what Billy Eckstine would say. They were playing that in that band. Because Dizzy was the musical director of Eckstine’s band. So the bebop sound came before Dizzy got his band. It was from Earl Hines into Billy Eckstine into Dizzy’s COMPLETE bebop band.
TP: Did either Jimmy Heath or Moody hear Charlie Parker in Earl Hines’ band?
MOODY: No. I heard records…
TP: Well, they didn’t record with Earl Hines.
MOODY: I heard the record Dizzy did with Cab Calloway, where he took that solo. [SINGS SOLO ON “Pickin’ the Cabbage.”]
TP: Did this music immediately become a banner for you to follow as a stylistic improviser?
MOODY: I’ll tell you. Everywhere the band played, everywhere, even on the stage, there would be people, because the place would be sold out, and everyone would have on a beret and horn-rimmed glasses and bow-tie. Everyone would have it. Then it got so hip that if you came to the place and you wanted to get in free, all you had to do was look exactly like that and you got in.
HEATH: The music fascinated us in Philadelphia so much, Coltrane and myself eventually getting in the band in 1949… But what had happened, we had tried to learn all of those things before we got in the band. We went to Little Rock, Arkansas, to play a gig – before Faubus – and the people sent out scouts and said, “We don’t need no bebops. Why don’t you’all go back and send Buddy Johnson down here?” Or Count Basie. They wanted to dance! See, we was playing a dance. So we could have beat the audience up in a fight, there were so few people in there. So Dizzy right away, he gets mad, and he pulls out “Things To Come,” like he’s going to shock us, like we couldn’t play it. But we had already shedded on that back home! We learned that, and some of the things he had recorded. Like “Cubana Be, Cubana Bop,” all that stuff in different meters and all that. John Lewis’ music, and George Russell, and Tadd. Tadd’s music always had a mellow quality. He was a romantic style orchestrator, whereas Gil Fuller was a cat with fire. And Gil was arrogant to the point where he said, “Tadd’s music, that’s background for my stuff.” [SINGS REFRAIN FOR “Our Delight” – SLIDE LAUGHS] He said, “That’s a background.” Because he was coming up with [SINGS “Things To Come” WITH FLOURISH] But that’s Dizzy’s intros. Those ideas are not Gil Fuller’s; in some cases they are Dizzy telling him what to write. He orchestrated Dizzy’s idea. So Dizzy is the master.
SLIDE: But isn’t it amazing, though, that he could orchestrate those ideas so well?
HEATH: Sure it is!
SLIDE: With that new music, to be able to orchestrate it so well.
JOHN: No one had orchestrated like that before. Right?
HEATH: Dizzy had orchestrated some of them. He could do it. So he was the one responsible for Gil writing like that. But Gil Schillinger, and he knew how to put stuff together real quick. So that was a marriage. What Gil was doing was writing Dizzy’s stuff the way Dizzy wanted it to sound. And bebop was the strongest thing that I had heard to date.
TP: Claudio, as a young trumpet player, I assume you heard all these records, or subsequently heard them and absorbed them.
CLAUDIO RODITI: You have to understand that growing up in another country than the United States, the music would get there later. But things would take a few years.
TP: But you did hear the records.
RODITI: I heard. But in 1959, when I was 12 years, I had a very pleasant experience. You’ll understand why. People kept telling me, “You’ve got to buy an album by Chet Baker; this is the latest thing you’re going to hear in modern trumpet.” So I went into a record shop and asked for a Chet Baker record, and they said, “We don’t have any Chet Baker right now, but we have this other record here.” They handed me an album. It was Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge, with Oscar Peterson playing organ. I said, “I’ll take it.”
MOODY: Oscar Peterson playing what?
RODITI: Yeah. I still remember this album. So I took this album home and I said, “Wait a minute. What is all of this?” It was something completely new. Because I had heard a little bit of jazz, but via albums that you could find – Louis Armstrong and things like that. But nothing that modern until them for me, especially being a 12-year-old kid. I had already started with the trumpet. But I was in for a shock.
TP: Did you try ever to emulate Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet style?
TP: It seems to me that a lot of trumpet players have not. Jon Faddis, obviously. But remarkably few for how influential Dizzy Gillespie is on the history of the music. Now, Jimmy Heath is laughing, and I know the answer to the question is obvious…
HEATH: They couldn’t do it.
TP: Why couldn’t they do it?
RODITI: First of all, technically. He had a range that very few people have to play it. Now, Fats Navarro came close, and Fats Navarro had something different. When I started copying and transcribing some solos, I started with Fats Navarro.
SLIDE: That’s Jimmy’s man, too.
RODITI: Moody mentioned a name that I just got hip to now, because I heard something on the radio the other day. Dave Burns. Now, that was a master trumpet player. Totally forgotten.
SLIDE: Now, you know that Miles said he personally wanted to play like Dizzy himself, but he couldn’t.
HEATH: He said the only reason he didn’t play like Dizzy is because he couldn’t. A lot of people tried. But Fats Navarro told me he was trying to play more like Bird instead of Dizzy, which is close, but it’s not exactly the same.
MOODY: When Dizzy would play things like… There was something about the fingering and his jaws that did something that just other trumpet players couldn’t do.
SLIDE: Yes, the fingering that made it possible to play those phrases in certain registers probably would be difficult, especially if you were going against the grain with the fingering going out that way… He had a way that the fingering seemed to be coming this way, and he could play in those registers and play the lines.
TP: You were moving your fingers backwards when you said “against the grain” and moving them forward when you said “that way.”
SLIDE: Yes, it’s like if you’re playing something and the line is going up, and you have to go down the fingering, then of course, you’re going against the grain. But if you play the same thing coming up the fingering, that means you might start in a place where it would be a fifth position on trombone and then come up. If you’re going to play a line, it’s easier to go that way than it is to go out this way in certain ranges, and Dizzy had that all worked out some way.
RODITI: What we call alternate fingerings on the trumpet. I remember when he was teaching me “Birks Works,” there was one simple thing where he used an alternate fingering, that if you tried to do it an alternate way, it doesn’t sound the same.
MOODY: The only one that I know who came close to Dizzy and loved Dizzy was Lonnie Hillyer. He was trying to play like him. But Jon Faddis got him.
HEATH: But also Dave Burns… When Dizzy had a hair in his lip in the Apollo… Were you with the group at the Apollo when David was taking all the solos because Dizzy had this hair?
MOODY: Oh, I was there. He had a hole in his lip as big as a lollipop. I don’t know if he got it when we were playing baseball on the road or something.
HEATH: Dave Burns was playing all the solos. And Dave Burns played like Dizzy, too. In a way. The best he could.
MOODY: The best he could, right. Lonnie Hillyer from Detroit…
HEATH: You thought so? Closer?
MOODY: Yeah. He was closer.
TP: In previous conversations, each of you have referred to Dizzy Gillespie as a tremendous mentor. Can you discuss his characteristics as a bandleader?
MOODY: If anybody was nervous or if they was funky, as soon as Dizzy walked in, the whole atmosphere changed. Everything was cool. Everything was nice. Dizzy could calm the most ferocious storm. He’d cool it right out.
TP: How would he do it?
MOODY: Just his presence.
JOHN LEE: His personality.
MOODY: Just Dizzy.
JOHN LEE: I was there almost ten years, and you had multi-relationships with Dizzy. There was Dizzy who was your bandleader, then he was like a brother on some things if you needed help, and then he was just like a… That’s like a brother-father kind of thing – right, Moody? [Yeah.] Then just purely as a friend at some point. Being in his room late at night, some of the stories he told. He could be tough and kick your ass, but he was also very sensitive. I went through a lot of marital problems when I was with Dizzy, and he was very sensitive to that. He even altered his schedule at sometimes wanting to know how I was doing. You just came to love him so much beyond the music thing because he cared so much.
MOODY: And didn’t take any shit. Excuse me for putting that way.
TP: That’s something I was about to ask. There are stories about him and Billy Eckstine touring the South and not taking any stuff from people when that was a very radical thing to do.
MOODY: Wait a minute. They knew when to act and when not to act. Because if you’re someplace and you’re outnumbered, like, a billion to one, don’t be a fool. Because I remember seeing Dizzy down South, the bus flying down the highway, and he got Eppie, the bus driver, by the collar, telling him he was going to kick his butt, and we’re saying, “Dizzy, no-no, wait til we get to Washington.” Because Eppie had said something to Lorraine, and it touched Dizzy the wrong way. And Diz had him by the throat. So-and-so and so-and-so. “Dizzy, that’s okay,” and Dizzy cooled it.
But we had a lot of instances like that down South. Man, they had what’s his name out there, the trombone player who just died in San Francisco. He was mugged and he said he had played with Dizzy, and then, when I saw him, he was the same one that we were sitting on the bus while this sheriff with his big hat was sitting there at this whitewashed barn, hammering a door, that the sheriff had said that he broke the door. He didn’t break the door, but he had to do that. Then we were there another time when Ella Fitzgerald… We were late for the gig, and when we got there everybody had gone except this guy, and he asked Ella Fitzgerald to get off the bus and sing to his wife, because “she loves the way you sing.” “Miss Fitzgerald, come on there and sing for my wife, now, because she loves your singing.” Ella was saying, “Yeah, but the band, and I odn’t know…” – and she was in her bandanna.
SLIDE: Did she go sing?
MOODY: No. But it took a long time.
JOHN LEE: Dizzy defended her?
HEATH: But you know, the thing about it… What’s really interesting about Dizzy the teacher… Dizzy, every day that I was in his company, he was always conscious of something musical, and he would show you things every time. If it wasn’t something, he’d be tapping out some rhythm, “and this is how you play in five, and this is how you play in seven – it’s all the same. You’ve just got to syncopate it differently.” He would be doing either rhythmic patterns, or he’d get on the piano and show you some harmonic sequences. He was always teaching. He was a master teacher. As far as that is concerned, that’s one of his assets.
The other thing is being a nice guy, too. He was very proud of me because I had messed up in his band and went to jail, and when I came back and had straightened out my life, man, he just… He was almost like my father. “I’m so glad that you’re back.” It was like taking me back in prodigal son returns.
SLIDE: You can’t imagine him being in jail, can you? You know the thing that was amazing about Dizzy. When we had the rhythm section that was… We had a Cuban, a Puerto Rican, a Brazilian, a guy from Panama, two Americans. And Dizzy could stand on the front of the stage, way away from that rhythm section, and never get lost. And they were playing the most complicated rhythms. I was sitting there and I was lost ALL the time. But he would never get lost on those fast things like that. “Tanga.”
JOHN LEE: We had Giovanni Hidalgo, Airto and Ignacio, a Puerto Rican, a Brazilian and a Cuban, and all at the top of their game. Giovanni’s the Charlie Parker of the congas, and Airto probably the greatest multi-percussionist of his time – or ever. And you’re right. Dizzy knew every rhythm they were doing. He’s like the father of it all.
HEATH: There was a statement someone made that Dizzy could be playing in a hall, and the band would be playing: he could go outside one door, and come back in the other door playing right in meter and right in the song, like he’d been standing on the stage. He never would get lost in meter or anything. He’d come back right in place.
SLIDE: He would try to keep the rhythm section close to the source. Because the longer the distance, the more difficult it is to communicate. But he could be a long distance from the rhythm section and be playing something that most people might get lost on anyway, and stay right in time. And playing very complicated. Very complicated!
MOODY: No matter where we went, no matter where we were, it could be the quintet or the big band, whatever, as soon as we got to the place, the first thing Diz would do was go over to the piano and sit down. Because a lot of these compositions that I hear now, I heard at the beginning on the piano, different places. I used to hear [SINGS FIRST FEW BARS OF “Con Alma]… All the different compositions. I heard them in concert halls or dance halls way before Dizzy finished them. I’d hear him sitting there playing.
JOHN LEE: One thing we all had is you just wanted to be around him. It’s hard to explain how much he gave to you – in everything, not even just music. He always had fun, too. I noticed that when I’ve worked with people who have internal struggles or are so wrapped up in themselves. Dizzy had fun every night. We could travel 18 hours and he might be a little cranky, but when we got to the gig, he was going to have fun and enjoy it.
MOODY: but you know what? The difference is… Jimmy Heath and Slide Hampton are writers and orchestrators, so they were hearing everything different from me. I was just sitting there, and I didn’t know anything about the harmonies and things. I have to be truthful with that. I got into Dizzy’s band; if a C-VII would have jumped in my face, I wouldn’t have known it.
HEATH: What ears!
MOODY: so what I did, I was just in the band, but I was there, and all I know is it made me feel good and I liked being there and I liked what I heard. But if you had asked me to explain it to you, what it was, I wouldn’t know. All I knew is it just sounded good, man, and I liked it. Like, at the beginning I liked Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and those people, and it was okay, but when I heard Dizzy and Charlie Parker, I said, “Unh-oh, that’s it.” I liked Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. I liked Lester Young better than Hawk, because Hawk knew the changes better than Lester Young, but I didn’t like [SINGS HAWK LINE] that lope thing that he had; I liked [SINGS PREZ LINE] like that. You know what I mean. But then when I heard Dizzy and Charlie Parker, I said, “Oh, man!” So now, I thought, well, Dizzy and Slide, they’ll tell you now, boy – I’ll be asking. I said, “slide, show me this section,” “Jimmy, show me, man.” I’m beginning to see some things now. A good thing now is, I’m beginning to see SOME of the light.
RODITI: The one thing I noticed in the five years I was with the United Nations Orchestra… You were talking about Dizzy being fun, and he was. He was also funny to the band. Sometimes, when he conducted the band, he made some faces that the audiences couldn’t see, but they were absolutely unbelievable. But I always noticed that at the same time, when Dizzy… I said this before, but I would like to say this one more time. When he put the trumpet to his face, he was serious. There was no fooling around, no dancing around, no clowning; it was just absolutely pure music.
TP: As an instrumentalist, was Dizzy a constant improviser? Did he repeat solos?
MOODY: Hell, no.
TP: Did he always play things fresh?
SLIDE: Never repeated.
HEATH: Everybody has cliches. But they wouldn’t be in the same place. Everybody got cliches. But Dizzy was a true improviser. They would be in different places. It wouldn’t be the same solo.
SLIDE: He started in a different place in the phrase, started in a different key in the chord…
HEATH: A true improviser.
MOODY: Yes. You’re right. He’d make you say, “Damn.”
HEATH: I’ll give you an example. Me and Coltrane was in the section together, and we were playing alto and Paul Gonsalves was playing tenor. We would look at each other every night to see what kind of break Dizzy was going to take on “I Can’t Get Started,” which is a ballad. When the band said [SINGS PHRASE TO THE BREAK] and he’d make a pickup, it would be different every night. Trane said, “Jimmy, you hear that?” I said, “Yeah, I heard.” Next night it would be different. That’s on a ballad!
TP: For a career as long his, he had a lot of different phases. Several different big bands, the quintet with Moody, which covered all his bases up to the time, from bop to Brazilian. Do any of you have favorite phases? Or is the whole thing your favorite?
MOODY: You mean a favorite group? I like the band with you and Coltrane and Benny Golson. That was the band, man.
HEATH: That’s what Dizzy said in the book, but I said the one with YOU. I listened to you and Howard Johnson and Cecil Payne, John Brown – that reed section. That was the one I like!
HEATH: Yeah. That was great. The one in the ‘50s I didn’t hear enough of. But I heard it on record. ‘56. That’s the one with the guy who used to play with Tadd playing lead alto and Phil Woods playing second.
SLIDE: Jimmy Powell?
HEATH: Jimmy Powell, yes.
SLIDE: I was fortunate enough to play in that.
TP: That’s when you first joined Dizzy, right?
SLIDE: I played with that band, although I was out of place in it. It was a fantastic band. They were playing music by Quincy Jones and by Benny Golson and by Dizzy and by Melba Liston, and the arrangements were just shocking, man, for a young arranger.
HEATH: Were you there with that singer?
SLIDE: I was there with Austin Cromer.
HEATH: That’s the one I’m talking about.
MOODY: “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Unbelievable.
SLIDE: He outsang Billy Eckstine and everybody. “Wonder Why.”
HEATH: I’ve got that on my I-Pod.
MOODY: Austin Cromer, man, from Detroit. He was bad!
HEATH: The problem with critics is they believe that music can only be coming from one person at a time. What’s the matter with these people! Ain’t no one person got all the music.
MOODY: You’re damn right.
HEATH: Everybody got some!
MOODY: That’s right.
HEATH: I love Coltrane. I love Miles. But come on! You know what I’m saying? What about the other guys? The critics get on something, and he’s this and he’s this, Miles and Miles and Miles. Fats Navarro kicked Miles’ ass in a band I saw with Dexter and Lucky Thompson, Miles and Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Percy I think, and Kenny Clarke. And man, Lucky Thompson was eating Dexter up on fast tunes and Dexter was kickin’ his ass on medium swing. But Fats was kicking Miles’ ass on both! Miles was a great musician, man. He ain’t the only one that got…
MOODY: They never gave Diz the credit he was due. Did you ever notice that? It’s always Miles-Miles-Miles. But they don’t give it to Diz, man. He doesn’t get the credit that he deserves.
TP: Why do you think that is?
HEATH: Miles got on Columbia Records. Dizzy said to me in Palm Beach, down in Florida, when I told him that the Heath Brothers were on Columbia, he said, “You’re on Columbia Records?!” Because he never got that kind of a contract. Miles stayed on there so long, that’s what made Miles popular. He was on a major label for a long time – him and Johnny Mathis! So they got famous.
MOODY: Do you know what Diz did? He looked at me and said, “Moody, you had a hit, but I never had one.” I said, “Yeah, but I’d rather be you.” You hear what I’m saying? I’d rather be Dizzy, boy.
TP: Is there any sound from Dizzy’s different periods that’s the template for this band? Does it go back to the ‘56 band that Slide was in?
SLIDE: This band has some of all those different periods in it.
JOHN LEE: All the periods. We have “Round Midnight,” “Lover Come Back To Me,” “Things To Come.”
SLIDE: “Two Bass Hit.”
HEATH: Yeah, and “Emanon” and all those…
JOHN LEE: Moody had a famous solo on “Emanon.”
TP: That was your first recorded solo with Dizzy, wasn’t it?
MOODY: Yeah, and it wasn’t supposed to be mine. It was supposed to be Billy Frazier’s solo – the baritone player. He didn’t show up for the session, so Diz said, “Blow, Moody.” And that was me. But other than that…
JOHN LEE: One important thing about this band, which Slide started… We’re not going to sit still with… First of all, a lot of those arrangements are still lost. We’ve been trying to rewrite them. Now, Jimmy and Slide and Dennis Mackrell are writing new stuff. The new album is going to have new expressions on a lot of these tunes. We don’t want to just sit still with that.
TP: Has the band been primarily Dizzy’s charts or transcriptions of his tunes…
JOHN LEE: Remember, Dizzy commissioned a lot of charts. Benny Golson, Quincy Jones, Tadd Dameron…
HEATH: Ernie Wilkins.
MOODY: “Without You, No Me.”
JOHN LEE: Ernie Wilkins. Slide.
MOODY: Let Jimmy tell you what happened.
HEATH: First, you asked the question about this band. This band has got more great soloists than the band I was with with Dizzy. This band has more great soloists than any band that Dizzy had, in terms of number of great soloists. In all the bands, they had a few great soloists and the rest of the guys was playing parts. In this band, you can point to any one of them guys. They stand up and it happens every time. That’s the difference. As an almost-80-year-old, I feel like this is a university. This is the Dizzy Gillespie University in action.
MOODY: Now, about the song “Without You, No Me,” I’ll let Section… We call each other Section, because we’re the saxophone section. I’ll let Jimmy Heath tell you. Dizzy called him and commissioned him to write this for him. You finish the section.
HEATH: Well, Dizzy called me and he said, “I’ve got Slide, Benny Golson, Thad Jones, Frank Foster; I’m starting another band, and I’d like you to write a piece for me.” I felt so honored to be in that group of great arrangers and composers. So he put it on tape, because I wasn’t home, and it was on the tape machine. I kept that tape. I don’t know where it is now, but I had the tape. So when he told me that, I said, “Well, yeah, I’ll write an arrangement,” and I wrote that arrangement. This was a commission when he’d call you up and tell you to write something for the band. When I got finished with it, certain things he told me to change because he didn’t like the nomenclature or the name-calling that I was using, the Lochrian mode or something. He said, “No, just minor with the VI in the bass.” He called it a minor with the VI in the bass, and I changed it to that. He took it and went on the road and played it, and they taped it somewhere, and I have a copy. But he never mentioned any money. So he just never paid me for it. But the thing is, I never asked him for any money. All the money that Dizzy gave me, I would be stupid to ask him for money! If he’d asked me to pay for every lesson he gave me, I’d be in his debt.
TP: I want to ask Claudio something about this. Getting back to the first thing Jimmy Heath said, that Dizzy Gillespie combined harmonic and rhythmic innovations… I don’t want to put you in a position of being representative of all Latin American musicians who play jazz, but can you discuss his… He was influential on a world scale and addressed the different vocabularies on their terms.
RODITI: The only thing I can tell you about this is from my experience of being Brazilian, and knowing that Dizzy went there before some other folks that we know who made a lot of success with the new music called Bossa Nova at the time.
JOHN LEE: That’s the biggest one, too. Because Stan Getz gets all that credit, but Dizzy…
RODITI: Yes, and Dizzy was there before. He went there, and he heard the new music, and he brought some of it. But he did not have the success that he deserved with that music. We always felt in Brazil… I never told any of you this. But I can speak for a lot of musicians, and say that when we heard the recordings of Joao Gilberto and Astrid Gilberto with Stan Getz, we didn’t particularly like what we heard in Brazil. We liked the music. But we had heard that music before, done only by Brazilians. Had Dizzy had the opportunity to really develop with the Brazilian music, it would have been something very, very special. Now, I must also add that there was another guy that went there and he incorporated that music for the rest of his life – Herbie Mann. Herbie went to Brazil in the early ‘60s and also heard the new music, and was very touched and very influenced by it. He had a very nice feeling. But when we Brazilians heard Stan Getz playing, we felt that something was wrong. What was wrong was that the pulse, the way Stan Getz was playing the music was wrong. He was feeling the music in 4/4 when the music was in 2/4. It was half of that.
HEATH: Kenny Dorham went down there, too.
RODITI: But that was later. That I remember, because that was about 1963. Dizzy was there in the late ‘50s.
MOODY: When I joined the Quintet, Dizzy gave me the little book and he wrote this stuff out, and I said, “Diz, you’ve got 2/4 here; why didn’t you just write it in 4/4, so I could…” He looked at me and he said, [SINGS PHRASE] I said, “Oh, okay. That’s it.” The feeling is altogether different in 2/4 than 4/4.
TP: Cuban musicians also felt that Dizzy had an idiomatic command of those rhythms, too, through Mario Bauza and Chano Pozo, and this influenced a lot of young musicians who themselves are influencing the way jazz is heard today.
MOODY: Did you know that Chano Pozo had three bullets in his body that they couldn’t remove. Because we roomed together, and just before we’d go to bed or something, Chano would say, “Moody,” and he’d have me feel the different bullets, where they were. Now, the reason the bullets were there was because Chano… I don’t know what the song was. I don’t know if it was “Babalu” or what it was. But he wrote this composition, and the guy at the publishing company hadn’t given him the money in Cuba. The guy said, “Come back at 1 o’clock.” And Chano, who was very menacing, you know… Chano had a thing on his shoulder! So when Chano got there at 1 o’clock, there was a guy waiting, and he shot him and tried to kill him. But Chano lived, so that’s what it was.
JOHN LEE: Do you know what’s very important to mention about all this stuff we’re talking about. Moody, you tell me if it’s right. But what I noticed, we’re talking about Getz’ success and different people’s success, but Dizzy never seemed bitter in all of that. He just kept moving on to something else. I never heard him say anything like, “Oh, Stan Getz did this or that.”
MOODY: He liked Getz.
JOHN LEE: He liked Getz a lot. They were friends. But there was no bitterness about…
HEATH: He liked Miles, too.
JOHN LEE: With Miles’ success and everybody, Dizzy just kept creating and being about music and having fun.
MOODY: But Dizzy, somehow or other he knows that the proof is in the pudding. When you hear things, your ear should tell you, “well, that’s what it was and that’s where it was.” So anything you hear by Dizzy, you’ve got to say, “wow.” No matter what it is. Wow. And the people who are supposed to be so great, you hear them and you say, “Oh, okay.” But you don’t say “wow.”
TP: Can anyone illuminate who were some of the people Dizzy was listening to as a young guy?
MOODY: Art Tatum. Art Tatum was the man.
HEATH: Roy Eldridge.
MOODY: And Louis Armstrong.
TP: How about composers?
SLIDE: He told me when he was playing in the bands, before he really started composing himself, Jimmy Mundy and all of these guys. He said he learned to arrange just sitting there listening to those arrangers. At night in his dreams he’d be hearing the brass section playing these things.
HEATH: That could be!
TP: Was that in Earl Hines’ band, when Jimmy Mundy was arranging for Earl Hines?
SLIDE: Yeah, in Earl Hines’ band.
HEATH: Budd Johnson, too.
SLIDE: He said he learned it from all those guys who were writing in that band. He had such an ear. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand, that the key to learning is having a good memory and a good ear. If you’ve got those two, you learn fast. Because you just hear stuff, you know what it is, and you remember it. Because even if you see a score and you see what something is and you don’t remember it, then you haven’t learned it. For people who have good memories, learning is easy, and Dizzy had a helluva memory and he had an incredible understanding of music – because he loved music so much and he was so dedicated. That’s another thing that’s very important. A musician can be a talented musician, but he doesn’t have to be dedicated. That’s a choice. If you really respect music, you’ll dedicate yourself to it. So you can give something back to it and not just be taking from it. Dizzy was giving more to music than he was getting from it.
TP: Jimmy and Moody both were saying that Dizzy Gillespie, on a certain level, didn’t get his due. What are some of the things people don’t understand about the magnitude of his accomplishment?
MOODY: First of all, I want to get to Coltrane and say this. When Coltrane played, the critics said, “there is somebody who is really full of crap, because he’s not playing anything but a bunch of notes and a bunch of noise.” Then later on, as time went by, people began to see, “Wow, wait a minute,” what he played made a lot of sense and it’s cool. Now you have people that are saying that people who are playing a lot of these other notes are great, when in essence, they know their butt from a hole in the ground what they’re playing. Now, when it comes to Dizzy: America is a land of mediocrity when it comes to anything with art. If it’s something dumb, oh, give me some more of that. But what Dizzy was playing, the people… See, if you love somebody, you give them what you know is good. Now, if you don’t know if it’s good, find out whether it’s good or not, and give it to them. America, they don’t do that. What they do is: Give me something that’s dumb and the people will like that, and I’ll give them that – and I’ll make more money.” So in essence, what Dizzy did was… If people had known what Dizzy was doing and if they knew now what he’s doing, people would be healthier, there would be less crime, and there would be more love. You know where I’m coming from? Mainly because of what he played. And his music was knowledgeable. All the music you hear today, there’s no intelligence to it. It’s a bunch of crap. But what Dizzy played, you had to use your brain a little bit to understand it, but later on, when you did, you could feel it emotionally, too. It was wonderful.
TP: He was also a great entertainer.
MOODY: Yeah, he was a great entertainer. But he did that mainly because he said, “Well, the people are sitting there looking at me like I’m nuts, so I’ll just do something to make them…” But that’s fine.
SLIDE: But before him, there was a lot of entertainment going on. Bandleaders all were entertainers. Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway. He played with all those guys. So when he became a bandleader, it kind of seemed to be the right thing to also add some entertainment. Which is a good idea, because it kind of brings the people in, gives them a chance to hear some…
RODITI: If I may just interject on the same thing. You notice the way Paquito D’Rivera leads a band has a lot of Dizzy’s influence in that particular thing of entertainment also.
MOODY: Look at me. Look at me when I’m on stage. I mean, hey, man… That’s Dizzy, man!
HEATH: When I conduct my band, I’ve got a little of that in me, too! That’s where we came from.
JOHN LEE: People want to be entertained. They really do.
SLIDE: Yeah. It helps bring them into something that calls for a very sophisticated outlook, a sophisticated listener. Just that alone, most people wouldn’t be able to hang with it that long. But if you give them a few other things as a reason why they’re out there paying their money, then they start to listen to some music that’s on a very high level of sophistication, and they start to get it emotionally. Because that’s what the final result of the music is about, is about the emotional effect that it has on… But some people, if you give them something like this without something that brings them into it, then they’re never going to get to the place that they can really listen to it. And getting people to listen to the music is the first thing you have to do to see whether they’re going to like it or not.
TP: I’d like to get back to the question of what, concretely, is not properly understood about Dizzy Gillespie.
SLIDE: That he was a very intelligent guy. The reason they didn’t understand him is because he was able to deal with people on all different levels of intelligence. He could deal with the guy in the street that spoke bad English. He could deal with a person who had a very extensive vocabulary. You see, he was a very intelligent person, but not where he looked down on other people who didn’t have the same intelligence development that he had.
HEATH: He was a people person. Dizzy liked all people, and they liked him for that reason.
SLIDE: He liked to talk to the janitors and the…
JOHN LEE: The man had an amazing understanding of logic. Dizzy would do shit, and you’d go… The best story I always tell that a lot of people don’t know about is when him and Sarah Vaughan took Earl Hines to the White House just as a guest. When they played during dinner, Nixon snuck up behind Dizzy and said, “Diz, uh, you think Earl would play for us even though he’s not here to play?” Dizzy dropped his fork and said, “You’re the President; you ask him.” He asked Dizzy to ask him. Just think about that. “You’re the President. You ask him. I’m not the President.”
MOODY: Dizzy was a helluva speller. Dizzy could spell damn near anything. You know how he got his name? They said he was dizzy because he did little funny things. But that saying goes, “Dizzy was dizzy like a fox.”
TP: So he was a very precise person. He could spell out all the rhythms, he could spell out all the chords, and he did that for four generations of musicians.
SLIDE: Yes. He loved grammar, he told me.
TP: Grammar musical and verbal.
HEATH: Dizzy was a born genius, man.
JOHN LEE: that’s it. That’s the bottom line.
HEATH: He was a born genius. When he went to school he was throwing spitballs around at the other kids, because he already knew what the teacher was saying anyway. He was bored.
TP: Dizzy was married fifty years to a very strong woman. What effect do you think she had on his success in the music business?
MOODY: If it wasn’t for Lorraine, Dizzy… For everything that Dizzy did that was wonderful and brilliant and like a genius, he squandered. He’d spend. No matter what it is, if he saw it, he had to have it. He’d buy it. He could get it, but Lorraine kind of put a rein on him, like, “Cool it; you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to do this…” She slowed him down. Because Dizzy was going 90,000 miles an hour, boy.
JOHN LEE: He recognized that she was his anchor, would bring him down to earth all the time.
JOHN LEE: She had amazing common sense and amazing discipline. Lorraine had amazing discipline. She was a very devout Catholic.
MOODY: You know what cracked me up? She said, “I damn near burned the house down trying to save his black ass.” Because you burn candles in the Catholic religion. She said, “I damn near burned the house down trying to save his black ass.”
JOHN LEE: There’s a famous story about Lorraine when someone was coming through… Do you all know this story about when someone was coming through the kitchen?
JOHN LEE: Dizzy had bought Lorraine a shotgun. Someone knocked the screen out the window, and he got up, he got his arms in… Lorraine is around the corner with the shotgun, standing there. Got his arms in, and the guy had… God saved him. They say he got halfway through and he stopped, and he said, “no,” and he backed up and left. She would have blown his head off. She was going to shoot him when he got through that window.
SLIDE: She wouldn’t shoot him halfway through.
JOHN LEE: No-no. She said, “Okay, if he comes all the way in here, he’s dead.” But he thought about it. This guy got kissed by an angel, went “wait, no,” and backed out.
SLIDE: A guy who goes into people’s houses to rob should be shot.
JOHN LEE: The gun was cocked. She was right around the corner. She was watching him.
RODITI: I feel if it wasn’t for bebop, the music would have made no sense in my life. Bebop created everything that I am now. All the pleasure. The pleasure of playing, the pleasure of composing, the pleasure of composing in a Brazilian vein even is influenced by bebop as well.
JOHN LEE: The challenge of it.
SLIDE: I’m with Claudio on that. Bebop brought something to music that was so important for music to have, to make music become all that it can be. There’s one thing that was missing. Because we had the European harmony, we had the African rhythms, we had influences from a lot of people. But we didn’t really have the importance of making the most music out of whatever you do, more so than all of the rules and all of the customs. Bebop is the thing that made musicians develop the whole respect for what they make in music. Made musicians respect music and respect what you have to put into music to get whatever you want out of it. Bebop was very important in that way. If you hear a musician who doesn’t have bebop in their playing, and you’re a good musician, you will know it.
HEATH: Bebop took the Afro-American classical music to a higher level.
JOHN LEE: And it’s a lifelong challenge, isn’t it. Still practicing and learning stuff.
HEATH: As musicians we get as much fun out of… I enjoy finding things. Like the piece I’m writing now called “The Endless Search.” That’s what we’re all involved in. The endless search.
TP: Does playing Dizzy’s music now, after 50-60 years of knowing it and playing it, hold the same sort of excitement… Obviously, it would be on a different level. But does it hold the same sort of excitement now as it did then?
HEATH: To us. And the audiences we’ve been playing for.
SLIDE: It has the important energy of guidance to it, and giving you something to judge, whatever you play. No matter what style you play, if you have a real firm understanding of the tradition of bebop, then you have a way of looking at whatever you play and telling whether it has any real value or not. You can play a completely different style, but you have something to judge what you’re playing, what music is there really in what I’m doing. Because you can easily get into a style that’s very exciting and very impressive. It doesn’t have to be musical.
HEATH: Because bebop is, like I say, the endless search. That means if we are trying to learn something and striving to get better all the time, we are not thinking about getting to the level where we want to make a whole lot of money. We’re not thinking about that. And watering things down so the general public will like it. We’re not catering to that. In bettering the music, we are bettering ourselves as human beings. That should make everybody want to be better.
TP: And Dizzy Gillespie was an exemplar and an avatar of that attitude.
MOODY: That’s what I was saying. People ask me what I do… When I play, I play for myself. And the reason I play for myself is because my goal in life is to play better tomorrow than I did today for myself. What I’m saying is that I am going to give you the best that I can give you. I can’t do any better than that. That’s what bebop is. When people are giving you something that is great… I mean, you can’t get anything better than that. Because Dizzy didn’t say [SINGS THEME OF “Bebop”] He didn’t do that so people could say, “Wow!” But if you want to make somebody’s mind grow, [SINGS “Bebop”…] That’s spiritual and mindblowing. And that’s why bebop I think is more valid than any kind of music that you have. Even classical music. Because in classical music, nobody plays bebop through the keys. Beethoven’s minor or whatever symphony, just one thing. If they want to say classical music is better than jazz, play all those things through different keys, and then I’ll go along with them.
JOHN LEE: The best explanation I’ve ever heard is that classical music is the expression of one man, the composer; everyone else is an interpreter. In jazz, everyone… Listen, I do want to say one thing, Ted. It’s the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. Slide Hampton is our Musical Director. The small group is the Alumni All Stars, because we recorded like that. And the record is coming out in September.
TP: I have one final question for each of you, counter-clockwise, starting with James Moody. It’s perhaps a little more complicated for James Moody, because you played with him for so long. But let’s say three favorite recordings or performances by Dizzy Gillespie.
MOODY: I couldn’t answer that. When you hear music, it’s like eating. Today you might want some beef, you might want some fish. If you listen to a recording, it might be the greatest thing you’ve ever heard at that time, and then later on it won’t be, then next month… I can’t say.
TP: Fair enough. Slide Hampton, can you say?
HAMPTON: I can. “Things To Come,” “I Can’t Get Started,” and “That’s Earl, Brother.” The first piece I ever heard in this style of music was “That’s Earl, Brother.” That was Sonny Stitt and Dizzy, a wonderful composition written by Ray Brown, and the solos… The great thing about Dizzy’s solos is that they sound like a part of the composition, a part of the arrangement. I heard the recording of “I Can’t Get Started” and also in person, and it always makes me feel great to hear it. “Things To Come” was just one of the most exciting things… This was one of the biggest changes that came in music, and also the thing that made people realize that music has to change, like everything else – and it has to get better. All of a sudden, people have taken music to a very low level of quality. It’s the wrong thing to do. It’s wrong to do this. Dizzy and them were the exact contrary of that. They were putting their whole lives into music to make it better, so people’s minds would be more stimulated by music, not only in music, but in their lives in general.
TP: Jimmy Heath?
HEATH: I think the first one would be “Shaw Nuff,” with Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Sid Catlett. That’s the first thing I heard, and that just blew my mind. There are so many by the big band that I love. “Things To Come” is one. Also some of the later ones. Dizzy’s arrangement of “Lover Come Back to Me” is one that I think was exceptional, and I’d say some of the things he did with… That’s very difficult. Some of the things… “Con Alma.” I think “Con Alma” is one of the greatest compositions ever written. When I hear it, it touches my heart and soul deeply, and I think about Dizzy and it makes me want to tear up and cry. When I hear it, it just puts me in a solemn mood of understanding that such a beautiful composition is just like Dizzy was – a beautiful man.
RODITI: Of course, I would have to say that first recording of Dizzy with Roy Eldridge stays in my heart as one of my favorites. I also am very fond of the 1949 Metronome All-Stars, “Overtime,” with Dizzy, Fats Navarro and Miles Davis in the trumpet section. To me, they elevated the trumpet to such a height that this remains with me, very much so. But there are so many recordings. I should say also “The Eternal Triangle,” Dizzy with Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins is another. There are so many. But these come to my mind at this moment.
JOHN LEE: I’m the youngest in the room. My father brought home Dizzy On The Riviera and played “Desafinado” over and over and over again, so that made a big impression on me. Then “Night In Tunisia.” Are we talking about an album or a tune.
TP: Either way.
JOHN LEE: It’s hard to pick. I was going to say “Things To Come,” but that song was licensed on so many albums. Sonny Side Up for me, and then Dizzy On The Riviera, and then Dizzy Live at Newport with “Dizzy’s Blues,” with the great Al Grey solo and Wynton Kelly on it – an amazing record. But I’m a lot younger, so I wasn’t exposed to “Shaw Nuff” and all that stuff. That’s what I was exposed to first through my whole childhood – Dizzy at Newport, Dizzy On The Riviera and “Things to Come.” But I can’t really tell you what album my father had of it. My father loved Dizzy, though.
MOODY: You see what I’m talking about? Everything that everybody said, I dug. Each thing. “Things To Come.” “Con Alma.” But I can’t tell you what, because when I hear all of it, each one is “Ah, boy, yeah,” “Ah, boy, yeah.”
JOHN LEE: The one thing I’m going to miss tonight is that we’re not going to play [sings refrain of “I Can’t Get Started.”] Slide, can you take that off the album. It’s about time. We’ve got to have that.
SLIDE: We have to play that, man. That’s everything. That’s all of life, man! If we play that, that’s going to make everything on the planet better.
JOHN LEE: These arrangements got lost. We could play it in the small group. But the big band arrangement Slide is talking about is only a 4-minute arrangement.
SLIDE: See, that was a piece that was recorded by a lot of trumpet players. And to imagine a guy who plays so modern to be able to make another recording of it that would stand up against the recording that came before is incredible.
JOHN LEE: We’ve got the two best ballad trumpet players alive in the band.
HEATH: You can send me home after that.
TP: Everyone’s been laughing about Jimmy’s reactions to a photograph of Dizzy in the Roy DeCarava book doing… What would you say he’s doing?
SLIDE: That’s a pirouette.
MOODY: Dizzy got all that dancing stuff from Lorraine. She was a chorus girl, you know.
JOHN LEE: We pack them in everywhere. Tanglewood, Kennedy Center.
MOODY: If we could make a movie with Jimmy and his brother following Dizzy’s band around with the ties and berets. We could get Spike Lee to play the part of Jimmy! It would be a great movie.
TP: Who could play Percy?
HEATH: I don’t know. That stuff with Fats and Miles, man, that ain’t necessary. That’s bush. All them guys had something. They were wonderful.
SLIDE: Well, Miles was wonderful, man.
HEATH: we know that. I got him in my car, all the ballads.
SLIDE: Miles showed a way that a person who didn’t have all the technique, all of the impressive technique that Dizzy had, and still make a lot of music. And Miles made a lot of music with his simple way of playing.
HEATH: He sure did. A voice.
SLIDE: He took all these great musicians and helped them become more popular. They came through his band; when they left his band, they could have their own band.
HEATH: I don’t need no Miles Davis fans coming to holler at me for what I said about Fats. Fats was an incredible trumpet player. Miles wasn’t at that time. The thing is, at the time… Fats didn’t live long enough to be recognized by the world like Miles.
SLIDE: Miles became more popular than Dizzy or any of the guys. Because he played the songs. If you want to become popular, there was a time when you could play songs. Not now, but there was a time. Now, actually, some of the guys are starting to go back and sing the songs again.
Let’s start with “Whisper Not.” You can’t go wrong with that. Then let’s do “One Bass Hit,” then come on up into the new stuff.