Nat Hentoff on Dizzy Gillespie


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"In the 1980s, there was to be a concert at Lincoln Center honoring [trumpeter] Dizzy Gillespie. He and a big band were, of course, to be at the center of the celebration. A few days before, I went to a rehearsal. Everyone was there except Dizzy. [Photo of Dizzy Gillespie in 1963]

“No music was played. The only sounds were a bitter argument between Max Roach and Gerry Mulligan [pictured]. Each had some compositions on the program, and at the start the argument was about who was to have more of his pieces played. Then it became very personal and poisonous.

“The other musicians, all of them renowned, either looked down at their music in embarrassment or found a place on the ceiling in order to avoid, God forbid, meeting the eyes of the combatants. The tension in the room got fiercer and fiercer.

“In the back, Dizzy, who had not moved, was watching. Then he strode to the front of the band, spread out a score, and said 'Letter B, we'll start at letter B.'

“He had filled the room with reasonableness without getting involved in the battle. Most of the leaders I've known through the years would have scolded the antagonists for wasting valuable rehearsal time and acting like children. But Dizzy, by his very presence, had broken the tension.

“Of course, he had for so many years earned the respect of the musicians, but so had other leaders, who would have added to the tension. Softly, being able to relax now, an alto saxophonist blew the rest of the bad feelings out the door, as he played, I'll Always Be in Love With You. Even Max and Gerry laughed."

—Nat Hentoff in 1995 from “Dizzy in the Sunlight" from The Nat Hentoff Reader (Da Capo Press)

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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