Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie

Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie

Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie

Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie


Dizzy Gillespie was one of the most important and best loved musicians in jazz history. With his dark glasses, goatee, jive talk, and upraised trumpet bell, he was the hipster who most personified bebop. The musical heir to Louis Armstrong, he created the basic jazz trumpet-playing style and dazzled aficionados and popular audiences alike for over 50 years. In this first full biography, Alyn Shipton covers all aspects of Dizzy's remarkable life and career, taking us through his days as a flashy trumpet player in the swing bands of the 1930s, his innovative bebop work in the 1940s, the worldwide fame and adoration he earned through his big band tours in the 1950s, and the many recordings and performances which defined a career that extended into the early 1990s. Along the way, Shipton convincingly argues that Gillespie--rather than Charlie Parker as is widely believed--had the greatest role in creating bebop, playing in key jazz groups, teaching the music to others, and helping to develop the first original bebop repertory. Shipton traces the Gillespie-Parker relationship, starting in the bands of Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine in the early 1940s, to their famous 1944-46 group that set the form for bebop, and culminating in their extraordinary concert at Massey Hall in Toronto in 1953. Shipton also explores the dark side of Dizzy's mostly sunny personal life, his womanizing, the illegitimate daughter he fathered and supported--now a respected jazz singer in her own right--and his sometimes needless cruelty to others. For anyone interested in jazz and one of its most innovative and appealing figures, Groovin' High is essential reading.


Jazz is a music full of thrilling sounds. It can also span the fun breadth of human emotion from exhilaration to profound sadness, from love to alienation, from celebration to commiseration. All the greatest jazz musicians have had the ability to touch their listeners in one or more of these areas, but, for me, Dizzy Gillespie's music has managed to inhabit all of them, while simultaneously conveying more of the sheer joy and excitement of jazz than that of any other musician. There are countless such moments in his recorded output, from his sure touch on his very first recorded solo in 1937, Teddy Hill's "King Porter Stomp," to the brief cameos with his United Nation Orchestra half a century later, where his horn elbows its distinctive way between his protégés and friends to make his last great statements.

In researching this book, I have tried to listen to as much as possible of his recorded legacy, which is never less than impressive, and, even in those periods when his career flagged a little, full of moments of surprise and delight, part of an extraordinarily prolific output at the highest level. I have talked to many of his friends and musical associates from all periods of his life and feel I have come to know many aspects of this complex and brilliant man.

"Why should another book on Dizzy be needed?" I was often asked, during the time this was being written. After all, his own autobiography, which is full of brief contributions from those who knew him, has often been hailed as a landmark in oral history, and there are numerous other biographies such as those byRaymond Horricks,Tony Gentry, and Barry McRae, or the lavish photo-books byLee Tanner and Dany Gignoux. In other languages there are yet more books, byJürgen Wölfer,Laurent Clarke, and Franck Verdun.

The answer is that to some extent all these books (which mostly appeared during Dizzy's lifetime) took their cues from him as to the shape and pattern of his life. For example, if Dizzy said that he had heard Roy Eldridge on the radio in Cheraw as a boy, who was to deny it? Yet when I found out that this must have been impossible, that Roy had not broadcast during the years Dizzy was still in South Carolina, I began to realize that, without in any way detracting from Dizzy's immense . . .

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