In his liner notes to the album, "Dizzy Gillespie: The Development of an American Arist, 1940-1946" (The Smithsonian Collection R004), Martin Williams describes the trumpeter as "perhaps the greatest living musical innovator we have."
That is a large claim. But it's an assertion that can be backed up. Gillespie created unprecedented blends of melody, harmony and rhythm and new instrumental techniques, at the same time exerting a widespread impact on the national music scene.
The effect was shocking. After hearing Gillespie and alto sazophonist Charlie Parker, musicians had to rethink their artistic principles and decide whether to continue playing in traditional styles or assimilate fresh concepts. Violent disagreements broke out among listeners who took hard positions on the music.
Today, more than 30 years after the surfacing of this music, variously called bebop and modern juazz, it is accepted as commonplace - in studio orchestras, high-school stage bands and the melodies of popular music.
It is fitting that in 1977, the year that Gillespie will turn 60, the Smithsonian has issued this two-record retrospectiive. The set is available only by mail order from the Smithsonian Collection, P.O. Box 1641, Washington, D.C. 20013, or in the Smithsonian's museum shops.
The album is invaluable in the way it shows the evolution of Gillespie from a fledgling performer to the threshold of deep musical influence and supreme artistic confidence. In producing this album, Williams, director of the Smithsonian Jazz Program, has carefully avoided including any of the Gillespie collaborations with Parker, with the explanation that the latter's brilliance has sometimes clouded the former's.
Gillespie's career is picked up in 1940, when he was 22 and a member of the Cab Calloway Orchestra. His solos reflect the profound influence of Roy Eldridge, who was considered the most advanced trumpeter of the day.
In jam sessions and big-band work from the early 1940s, we can hear the Gillespie style slowly evolving into something more complex and personal. He is heard with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, a titan whose career went back to the 1920s, and in performances with Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson ,a dn the orchestra of singer Billy Eckstine.
Gillespie's art was firmly grounded in the music of the generation that preceded him - Hawkins, Art Tatum, Don Byas, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Count Basie. His - and Parker's - was a radical evolution, not a complete breakaway. So when we first hear his 1946 recordings, his mature style is dazzling and filled with pyrotechnics, but it seems a natural outgrowth of his earlier work.
Side There is where we see the trumpeter come into his own, playing pieces such as "I Can't Get Started," "Good Bait," "Salted Peanuts," "Bebop" and "Night in Tunisia," all of which are still identified with him. Most of the pieces on the last two sides have been out of print for many years. One has never been released.
The excitement of Gillespie launching new musical ideas is still clear on these sides. The joy of nostalgia is there for listeners who know these pieces.
Gillespie plays with an exuberance, even brashness that is infectious. On "Be-bop" and "Salted Peanuts," he performs with speed and fluency that had not ben heard before on trumpet - and rarely equaled since.
Thirty years later, Gillespie, who opens Monday night at Blues Alley, still plays with great power and imagination. Age and changing times have taken away some of his enthusiasm. No longer is he able to generate musical fervor easily in mediocre surroundings. Less focus on jazz these days has meant that in recent times Gillespie has not been recorded under optimum conditions.
His recent Pablo label recordings have been spotty. "Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods" (Pablo 2310-771), played with the Machito Orchestra, is one of Gillespie's finest concert performances. "Carter, Gillespie, Inc." (Pablo 2310-781), a reunion with Benny Carter 38 years after they first recorded together, is excellent but not notable.
Other Pablo efforts, such as "Dizzy's Party" (Pablo 2310-784) and "Bahiana" (Pablo 262-5708) are fanciful excursions into rhythm but short of the best Gillespie.
Nevertheless, Gillespie knows he is an integral part of a brass tradition that began with King Oliver and moved through Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge and himself. He is also a major figure in the history of his country's music.
"I don't have to try to be modest about my contributions," he has said. "I know what I've done. When you state a fact and prove it, you don't have to worry about modesty."