Tag Archives: Dizzy Gillespie

The Jazz Ambassadors

“The Jazz Ambassadors” tells the story of when the U.S. State Department asked jazz icons to travel the world as cultural ambassadors during the Cold War. Their mission was at the intersection of race, civil rights and public diplomacy.

The film premieres on May 4, 2018 on PBS. Check your local listings.

Rendezvous Club

The Rendezvous Club was located in the basement of the Douglass Hotel.

Douglass Hotel

In a May 11, 1959 conversation with celebrated jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shared an anecdote:

… in Philly, I had an interesting experience with Roy [Eldridge]. All the bands used to come to Philly. When I got to Philly in ’35, Roy was with Teddy Hill and Chu [Berry], and they used to jam downstairs in the Rendezvous up under the Douglas Hotel where the Showboat is now. Well, those guys used to play and I wouldn’t dare play, you know. I’d just go and listen to those guys. So one time, I remember, Rex Stewart, Duke Ellington, and Teddy Hill were there at the same time and they had a session downstairs and Roy was down there that night. And Rex, you know, Rex was Roy’s idol. Roy tells now about the time he first heard Rex play that high B flat. Roy finally found that B flat. I guess, ‘cause when he come to Philadelphia that night they was jammin’ round there and Roy started playing. Damn, Rex started crying and just tightened up and left ‘cause Roy was in rare form that night. I didn’t meet Roy until way later. I met him there, but he didn’t remember me.

Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews is available on Amazon.com.

Empire Records

Empire Records Shop was located on the edge of “The Strip” at 52nd and Market Streets.

Empire Record Shop - Overlay -Zoom

Empire Records was the oldest, continually-operated Philadelphia jazz record shop (1930 to 1970). In an online profile, Bill Morlitz shared his story:

I was born in Camden NJ since my mom’s cousin was head of Obstetrics at West Jersey Hospital on February 1, 1950 and have lived my whole life in Philadelphia and/or its suburbs. My dad had the first jazz record shop in Philadelphia so at an early age, I was immersed in the music business. Maybe that’s why I can’t sing a note on key nor have the 10 years of piano lessons stayed with me. Chopsticks is beyond me.

During my teens, I was fortunate to personally meet many great jazz artists including Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Buckner (who developed the locked wrist rhythm style of piano playing and was Lionel’s pianist), Lionel Hampton and many others. Grover Washington, Jr. worked in the store on the weekends and we used to go listen to jazz sets together. My photography is included on his “Live at the Bijou” album.

Read More

1st Quaker City Music Festival

The 1st Quaker City Music Festival, a three-day jazz festival produced by George Wein, was held at Connie Mack Stadium in 1960.

connie-mack-stadium-1st-quaker-city-jazz-festival-cropped-e1482697357248

From the August 29, 1960 edition of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin:

The stage was situated at third base with the fans sitting in both the upper and lower stands from home plate to left field.

The lineup included Gloria Lynne, Dizzy Gillespie, Chico Hamilton, Herbert Mann, Nat Adderly and Ornette Coleman.

Connie Mack Stadium was demolished on July 13, 1976.

2nd Quaker City Jazz Festival

On September 30, 1967, the 2nd Quaker City Jazz Festival became the first event hosted by the Spectrum.

2nd Quaker City Jazz Festival

The two-day festival was produced by Herb Spivak, co-owner of the legendary Showboat. According to Joe McAllister:

Spivak went to Ed Snider and company (the Flyers were still in their infancy and the Sixers played at the Convention Center) and said he’d like to book a two-day jazz concert. Initially rebuffed because the Snider group didn’t believe a jazz bill would sell. Spivak replied, “That’s my problem.”

Spivak booked 10 groups a day and once again sold out the concert in two days. Dizzy Gillespie opened up the Spectrum with “God Bless America” followed by performances by Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Sarah Vaughan and Flip Wilson among others.

The lineup also included Cannonball Adderley, Astrud Gilberto, Groove Holmes and Arthur Prysock.

The Spectrum formally closed on October 31, 2009. Demolition was completed in May 2011.

Jazz 100 Celebrates Four Icons

This year marks the centennial birthdays of Ella Fitzgerald, Mongo Santamaría, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. The jazz visionaries will be celebrated on Friday, September 30 at 8:00 p.m. at the Merriam Theater.

jazz100

Anne Ewers, President & CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Art, said in a statement:

Philadelphia is a revered jazz city and this presentation gives us a one-of-a-kind opportunity to celebrate the music of four jazz icons in their centennial year. Touting artists from around the world, Jazz 100 will showcase the unifying fibers of this genre.

Over the course of their careers, the jazz legends performed in clubs and venues in Philadelphia.

Jazz 100 Collage

Dizzy’s Philly roots are deep. Born in South Carolina, his family was part of the Great Migration. For a time, he lived at 637 Pine Street. He was a member of the house band at the Earle Theater. After a tiff with management, Dizzy became a regular at the Downbeat Club, which was located within shouting distance of the Earle Theater.

Downbeat Club Collage

Dizzy was a founding member of Union Local 274. The black musicians union was located at 912 S. Broad Street.

An iconic television commercial is one of my earliest memories of “The First Lady of Song.”

One of my most memorable experiences was attending Thelonious Monk’s funeral in 1982 at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City. Musicians paid loving tribute to Monk with version-after-version of “Round Midnight.”

Jazz 100 brings together an all-star ensemble of musicians, including Lizz Wright (vocals), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone, vocals) and Chris Potter (saxophone, woodwinds).

Jazz100 Musicians

The tribute concert “showcases the individual artistry of each icon and the powerful unifying threads between them.” Tickets can be purchased at the Kimmel Center Box Office or online at kimmelcenter.org (save over $45 with promo code “Dizzy”).

Benny, Brownie and Dizzy

On June 26, 1956, legendary trumpet player Clifford “Brownie” Brown had just left performing at Music City in Center City when he was killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He was only 25.

In tribute to his friend, Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson composed “I Remember Clifford.” In an episode of Jazz Stories by Jazz at Lincoln Center, Golson recounted how Dizzy Gillespie became the first person to hear his tribute to Brownie:

I decided I would try to write a song that would be reminiscent of Clifford. And during those days, I could write a song in one day. You know, just a half-hour or so—might not have been that great though. But this tune, because of what he meant to me as a friend and fellow musician and what I wanted the song to be, consequentially, it took me almost a whole two weeks to do it. And once I did it, I wasn’t sure what I had.

So Dizzy came in early one night and I had come with my uniform that afternoon knowing that I wouldn’t be going back to the hotel. So since he was there, I decided to ask him what he thought about it. Chairs were still up on the tables, they hadn’t really prepared, but somehow he came early. So I asked him did he have a moment to listen because I wanted him to hear something. And he said, “Okay.”

He came over and sat down at the table and I started to play this tune and he said, “Hmm…” And then he started to take his trumpet out of the case and I thought to myself, “The man doesn’t even know the tune and he’s going to try to play it!” But he fooled me.

READ MORE

Hot Jazz and Cold War

In his opening remarks at the International Jazz Day global concert at the White House, President Barack Obama said:

Jazz is perhaps the most honest reflection of who we are as a nation. Because after all, has there ever been any greater improvisation than America itself? We do it in our own way. We move forward even when the road ahead is uncertain, stubbornly insistent that we’ll get to somewhere better, and confident that we’ve got all the right notes up our sleeve.

That “honest reflection of who we are as a nation” became an instrument of cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. Jazz musicians-turned-cultural ambassadors toured in more than 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Jazz diplomacy was intended to win hearts and minds and promote a positive view of America as the land of freedom.

The irony of being ambassadors of freedom was not lost on jazz musicians who were treated as second-class citizens at home and subject to racial segregation.

As part of Jazz Appreciation Month, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, the Public Diplomacy Council and the DC Jazz Festival presented a program on jazz and public diplomacy.

Dizzy Gillespie was the first Jazz Ambassador. The legendary Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the catalyst behind the tour. His son, Adam Clayton Powell III, President of the Public Diplomacy Council, recently wrote:

Americans underestimate the impact of jazz on audiences around the world. And in a way that contributes to the power of international tours by U.S. jazz musicians, including and especially tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

[…]

During the Cold War, America’s most prominent “jazz ambassadors” included Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong – at a time when segregation was the law of the land in much of the U.S. and the civil rights movement was at its peak. And that created a conflict for many of musicians.

“You had people being hosed down with fire hoses and dogs sicced on them, and you had these reports going out across the world,” said [Willard] Jenkins. “So it did create a real issue for many of the African American musicians who were selected to make those tours.”

Then Jenkins read from instructions given to musicians by the State Department: “‘Remember who you are and what you represent. Always be a credit to your government.’”

READ MORE

John Coltrane and Cultural Heritage Preservation

Jazz legend John Coltrane personified cool.

John Coltrane

Coltrane was into cultural heritage preservation before it was cool. His composition, “Alabama” was in response to the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. His mournful tribute captured the zeitgeist of the Civil Rights Movement.

Philadelphia shaped and nurtured Coltrane. On June 5, 1945, the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, featuring Charlie Parker, performed at the Academy of Music. Coltrane and Benny Golson were seated in the next-to-last row. In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project, NEA Jazz Master Golson recalled:

When we heard – John and I – when we first heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie – I told you he was sounding like Johnny Hodges – our lives changed that night. We had never heard any music like that. Never. We were screaming like these Beatles groupies, when they used to hear the Beatles.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit at his home in Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood in North Central Philly. The Mural Arts Program, in collaboration with the community, honored a former neighbor. On or about Sept. 15, 2014, Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural.

John Coltrane Mural - Resized

Pennrose has not contributed a dime to replace the tribute to an American icon. The cultural resource was paid for, in part, by taxpayers. After being called out, a company rep lied about “ongoing discussions.”

I know they lied because I was part of the only discussion that has taken place. At the March 10, 2015, meeting with Mural Arts, Lopa Kolluri, Pennrose’s Vice President of Operations, asked for a “menu of options.” Mural Arts sent a proposal and several follow-up emails to which Pennrose has yet to respond.

Pennrose’s arrogance is particularly galling given the company has feasted on public subsidies seasoned with political donations for nearly 40 years. In 1989, a Philadelphia Inquirer story noted the company’s reliance on government subsidies.

Pennrose doesn’t think our stories matter, but we do. It’s our responsibility to remember the ancestors and preserve their legacy for present and future generations. #BlackCultureMatters