45 Degrees and Rising | Sojourners

45 Degrees and Rising

The first time I met Dizzy Gillespie in person was at the 1984 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, standing in the doorway of Sun Ra's dressing room. Ra was sitting in the middle of a circle of young musicians and admirers, holding court, talking about the music and spreading the word of his cosmic experiences.

Diz stood there, leaning against the doorjamb, engrossed with the sight. I stood beside him for a moment, fascinated by his attentive concentration on the scene.

"What do you think of Sun Ra, Diz?"

"He's something else, man. He's another level -- I'm telling you!" he answered, with a twinkle in his eyes, a kind of contemplative glow, hinting of some mnemonic peregrinations through the vital flux of his own musical life.

Perhaps he was reminded of those early years when he and Charlie "Yardbird" Parker and Thelonious Monk were leaders of the black revolution that radicalized musical expression in the Americas and, yes, in the world.

Writer Herb Boyd, who had one of the last interviews with Diz, observed that after Satchmo, Duke Ellington, Bird, "you have to consider that Dizzy is one of the key innovators in the whole history of jazz. I think that beyond the kind of demeanor of his antics, his hilarity, his playfulness, he was a superb stylist who was very serious about his music. He may have been laughing about a whole lot of things, but when it came to his music, he was extremely serious."

JOHN BIRKS GILLESPIE was always serious about his music, right to his death on January 6, 1993. Born in Cheraw, South Carolina, on October 21, 1917, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in Englewood (New Jersey) Hospital, where he had been confined for nearly a month. He was 75.

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