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Dizzy Gillespie Collection
Dizzy (John Birks) Gillespie was born in Cheraw, South Carolina in 1917. His father, a local bandleader, had him playing the piano at age four. The elder Gillespie, however, died when his son was ten, leaving John to learn music on his own. At twelve he was playing trombone; at thirteen, trumpet. A music (and sports) scholarship enabled him to attend the Laurinburg Institute, in Laurinburg, North Carolina, but he left the school in 1935. He soon joined the Frankie Fairfax Band in Philadelphia, and there picked up his nickname “Dizzy” for his on stage clowning. Through a succession of other jobs in other bands he began developing his own distinctive style of play, finally finding a place to express this style, christened “bebop,” when, with Charlie Parker, he joined the Earl Hines band in 1942. He moved on to other bands and bebop followed. Quickly accepted by some fans and musicians, and just as quickly rejected by others, bebop nonetheless helped define post-war jazz in the U.S. and in Europe. At the time of his death, in January of 1993, Dizzy was one of the most widely recognized and admired jazz musicians both within the jazz community and in wider culture.