"Hell, I thought Dizzy was never going to be much of a trumpet player," said Phillmore (Shorty) Hall, trying to suppress a big laugh. "Diz used to be into devilment all the time. Every time I turned around I had to go see Mr. McDuffy [the school principal] about Diz. I remember one time he climbed in the girls' dormitory. Sometimes he'd be shut out of the cafeteria [as punishment] five days a week."
Hall, the old master, was reminiscing about his most successful student, Dizzy Gillespie: modern jazz innovator, designer of the upsweep trumpet, comic genius.
Gillespie lowered his head sheepishly as Hall, sitting in his son's Fairfax County home recently, plowed deeper into the past.
"I guess I was like that," Gillespie said, "because of my father. He used to whip me every Sunday when I was a kid. Can you imagine that? It was a regular event, something you could count on.So maybe I was rebelling.
"But I could take care of myself. You remember Tom Blue? Played bass drum. He must've weighted 250 pounds, more than a hundred pounds more than I weighted. He tried to jump me once when I corrected him. I drew a knife on him.
"Mr. McDuffy called me in and asked if I pulled a knife. I said yes. He said why. I said, 'Look at him and look at me.' And he let me go."
Hall, 72, and Gillespie, 63, teacher and student, had flashed back almost half a century to 1934, when Gillespie was 17 and Hall had just started teaching at Laurinberg Institute in North Carolina, with the mission of starting a school band from scratch.
"When I got there, the only people who could play were Diz and his buddy, Norman Powe, who played trombone," said Hall. "I gave Diz a few pointers. I used to get after him about puffing out his jaws. Of course he can do anything he wants to now.
"I tried to teach Dizzy to master the horn, to put his personality into the trumpet. I was always doing some little things myself, like I put some things from overtures like the '1812' into 'Tiger Rag,' or passages from 'The Poet and Peasant Overture' into a break on 'Dinah.'
The respect, even love, between these two men was clear from the moment Gillespie stepped into Hill's home. They hadn't seen each other in two years.
"Hey, Governor," Gillespie said in his grainy voice. They shook hands heartily.
"You've lost a little weight, Jake," Hall said in a faltering, high-pitched voice.
"Not as much as I'd like to. I need to lose 15 more pounds. I don't know what this extra weight is doing to my heart."
They stood in the basement re room. Logs in the fireplace crackled noisily. The five-foot Hall (people started calling him Shorty when he was a teen-ager) walked with a cane because of a fractured foot.
Before the two could be seated, Hall launched into a string of questios: "What became of Bernard Rhodes? Is he still playing?Where's Tommy Tucker? Lane? Milton? Who's left from the Erskine Hawkins band?" The names poured out.
"Ain't nobody playing our age but Doc Cheatham," Gillespie said with a deep smile covering his jack-o-lantern face. "He's playing as strong as ever. dJust stands up there and blows so pretty."
Then, "Diz, do you remember the time we were playing upstairs in Cheraw [S.C.] and the people started fighting, and the police came and told us to play 'The Star Spangled Banner?'" The memories took over again.
"Shorty Hall was hardly five feet tall," writer Ralph Ellison once said in a magazine interview, "but he could blow the hell off a big-bore symphonic trumpet."
Hall left Indianapolis at age 14 bound for Tuskegee Institute. As an orphan (his mother died when he was 4 and his father when he was 9), he was cared for by a white family and worked and saved $250, enough to make the trip. He had learned of the Alabama school through founder Booker T. Washington's autobiography, "Up From Slavery," a gift from the people he lived with."
"I got on the train in the fall of 1922," he recalled. "After I arrived I only made the fifth grade because I didn't know fractions or decimals."
Hall found a job blowing the bugle -- taps, reveille, meal calls -- for 30 cents a day. Capt. Frank Drye, a former 10th Calvary Bandmaster who directed the school band, noticed the youngster's musical inclination and took him under his wing. Drye was an exacting disciplinarian, "a soldier in his approach," remembered Hall.
Ellison played for a summer in a Tuskegee band directed by Hall. The novelist cited the master trumpeter as a musician who had been trained in European styles and techniques and had passed his knowledge on to youngsters who opted for jazz (pianist Teddy Wilson's first jazz band experience came in a school band directed by Hall at Tuskegee).
". . . He played all the difficult variations and triple tonguing," Ellison said. "He had the facilty of Al Hirt. So there is a direct line leading from Captain Drye, the ex-cavalry bandmaster, through Shorty Hall to Dizzy."
And there are the trumpeters whose styles Gillespie has directly shaped -- Howard McGhee, Thad Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Conte Candoli, Sam Noto, Lonnie Hillyer, Jon Faddis.
Even though he rose to become a cornet soloist at the New York World's Fair in 1938, Hall said, he didn't get a degree in music until he'd taught music for 10 years. His first degree was in commercial science.
Hall went on the road in the '30s with the Speed Webb band out of Cincinnati, which performed mostly in the Midwest. In the '40s, he played with the Tony Pastor and Fletcher Henderson bands.
After a decade at Laurinberg Institute, Hall taught at Hillside High School in Durham, N.C., for 11 years, becoming the first black bandmaster hired in that state. One of his students there was a drummer-singer Grady Tate, of whom Hall said: "I truly didn't think Grady was going to be much of a musician. I had to put him out of the band room so many times."
Subsequently, he taught in several Fairfax County elementary schools from 1957 until his retirement in 1973. He still teaches privately, nine students a week.
While the menfolk were downstairs reminiscing, Hall's wife, Lucy, was upstairs preparing dinner.
Unable to contain his exhilaration, Gillespie shouted out, "Lucy Lee, let's get it on. I'm hungry. Turn up the fire."
She yelled back that dinner wouldn't be long.
"I'm a weight watcher," he laughed. "Reverse weight watcher! I watch the weight go on!"
Soon they were seated around a table piled high with roast chicken, fried flounder, dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes mixed with pineapple and macaroni and cheese, topped off with fruitcake for dessert.
No one wasted any time digging in. And Lucy Hall continued bringing fresh supplies.
The table talk shifted to cameras and Gillespie, a photography fan, stopped eating long enough to mention the Contax camera and Zeiss lens he brought to Washington during his recent engagement at Blues Alley.
"You know, security people at airports told me it didn't hurt to take film through those X-ray machines," he said. "But I don't believe it. I wondered why my pictures had all those streaks on them.
"I was going through German customs once and the agent asked me to put my trumpet in the baggage section. I told him I'd just as soon ride underneath myself and put the trumpet in my seat.
"He said, 'You're the guy on television, right? Play something for me.' I did. And he let me go right through."
Hall smiled proudly at his former student. "I wish you'd play 'A Night in Tunisia [one of Gillespie's best-known compositions] tonight," the old master said. "I can't be there [at Blues Alley] because of my busted foot, but it'll do me good just to know you played it.
"I like to hear Diz play that piece with all the embellishments. He makes a know-nothing piece sound like an opera. Diz is just as great a master playing trumpet as yeinstein is in science."
Gillespie brought a present for his old teacher: a miniature model of the upsweep trumpet he plays . But Hall, still caught up in the mood of the moment, didn't open it until Gillespie reminded him.