Dizzy Gillespie: the Ambassador of Jazz
by Octobria Saddler


In order to find more about this legend that is Dizzy Gillespie, I decided to conduct research on him to find out the history behind the Ambassador of Jazz. For some time, I had grown up around Jazz music and Jazz art due to the influence that this genre had on my own father. In order to understand Dizzy as a whole rather than small pieces  from my childhood understanding, I researched to discover videos of his style, articles of his life, and stories of his success. 


John Burks Gillespie was an African American composer, bandleader, singer, and was most known for his dynamic skill in playing the trumpet. His nickname “Dizzy” was given to him for his expressive stage presence. Throughout Jazz culture Dizzy has influenced many but most importantly he has enhanced the genre of music with his curation of bebop on 52nd street, which later became a new Jazz style that is still being played today. Having started his career with first playing the trombone, Dizzy found his true match with the trumpet at a young age and changed the genre of Jazz forever. 

Early Life

Growing up, Dizzy’s at home life was not the most suitable environment for him as a child. His father was quite abusive and died leaving their family financially unstable. Dizzy was born and raised in Cheraw, SC on October 21, 1917. The trumpet was introduced to him shortly after his play with the trombone. He was introduced to music after his father died, when Dizzy was 10, and decided to join his school’s band. The connection with the trumpet was not the first connection with an instrument that Dizzy first made. When he first joined the school band, his instrument of choice was the trombone. Dizzy taught himself how to play both the trombone and the trumpet. It wasn’t until he accidentally had to play the trumpet under certain circumstances that he was connected with the instrument that would allow him radicalize the Jazz culture.

Life on the Road

In 1932 he enrolled in the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina to pursue a higher education in music. When Dizzy was around the age of 18, he made a move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his family and decided to drop out of school. At this age and with this move, his career started to really take off especially once he joined the Frankie Fairfax Orchestra and began playing professionally. From there he was playing with legends such as Edgar Hayes and Teddy Hill.  At the end of the 1930s was when Gillespie became apart of the Cab Calloway band. His success started to climb once he started working with artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker. ” While Gillespie was considered a musical radical in the 1940s and early ’50s, acceptance of the bop sound he pioneered with Charlie Parker eventually led to his being accepted an elder statesman of jazz”(NPR).  His experience with being a bandleader influenced many more of his collaborations in his future. 

Bebop's Formative Period

With his collaboration with Charlie Parker, Dizzy found new ways to present jazz music with the altering of sounds and radically innovating music in a new direction. “During bebop’s formative period in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Gillespie became an apostle for the innovative music, his superb playing, composing and band leading capabilities providing a model for a new generation of jazz musicians” (TIME). Dizzy went so far as to incorporate sounds from Cuba, South America, and the Caribbean to add to this style. 

Bebop, which is considered to have polyrhythms and dissonant harmonies, is considered to be a reaction to swing music. The exposure that was necessary for this style of jazz came easy for Gillespie and his band as they performed for a period of six years. 

It was not only the radical sound Gillespie played with or his stage presence that he had fun with that would gain him exposure and bring the spotlight on him, but it was also the size and shape of his trumpet. In 1953 there was an accident where his trumpet resulted in an unusual shape where the bell of the trumpet was tilted upward. Dizzy being the playful musician he was, decided to leave his trumpet that way and allow for an even more signature look aside from just his puffed-out cheeks. In turn, Gillespie produced some of his best work: “Salt Peanuts” and “Oop Bob Sh’Bam”. 

the Ambassador of Jazz

The Ambassador of Jazz, Dizzy Gillespie has proven himself to be one of the founding fathers of jazz. With his cultivation of an entirely radical jazz style and his signature lively energy on any stage that he stepped on, Dizzy Gillespie really found a way to leave an impact on the jazz culture as well as African American culture. He found ways to bend musical rules and put a face on jazz that others couldn’t quite hit. Some of his major works were the album released in 1960 titled A Portrait of Duke Ellington as well as his exponents of bebop and his work on Afro-Cuban music.Dizzy was a role model, a pioneering individual, and most of all, a brilliant musician. 


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“Dizzy Gillespie.” Discogs, www.discogs.com/artist/64694-Dizzy-Gillespie.

“Dizzy Gillespie On Piano Jazz.” NPR, NPR, 25 July 2008, www.npr.org/2008/07/25/92911900/the-legendary-dizzy-gillespie-on-piano-jazz.     

 The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Dizzy Gillespie.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 24 Apr.                              2017,                                  www.britannica.com/biography/Dizzy-Gillespie.

Futterman, Steve. “Dizzy Gillespie: Remembering a Jazz Legend.” Time, Time, 21 Oct. 2013, entertainment.time.com/2013/10/21/dizzy-gillespie-remembering                  a-jazz-legend/.

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“Who Is Dizzy Gillespie? Everything You Need to Know.” Facts, Childhood, Family Life & Achievements of Jazz Trumpeter,


Yanow, Scott. “Dizzy Gillespie | Biography, Albums, Streaming Links.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/dizzy-gillespie-mn0000162677.

Yanow, Scott. “Dizzy Gillespie | Biography & History.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/dizzy-gillespie-mn0000162677/biography.

Copyright© 2017 Octobria Saddler. All Rights Reserved. 

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