Dizzy Gillespie stopped clowning around for a few moments at Blues Alley last night and simply said: "Last week one of the great artists of our music passed away. Mr. Monk was one of the few true geniuses." Gillespie then led his quintet to a bittersweet elegy, Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight." With a mute stuck in his upturned trumpet bell, Gillespie squeezed out quiet ballad phrases that seemed to whisper with ache. The phrases would descend toward a musical stalemate only to slip away elusively. It was a heartfelt performance that reminded one that Gillespie is one of the few survivors from the revolutionary generation of Monk and Charlie Parker. It also reminded one how well Gillespie can still play.
As his shows often do, this one began uncertainly but climbed to a rousing finish. Ignacio Berroa, a Cuban e'migre' drummer, added Latin cymbal and cowbell colors to his muscular rhythm. Electric bassist Michael Howell and electric guitarist Ed Cherry were capable, but Washington's own Ron Holloway was the revelation. He opened up Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" with an aggressive tenor sax solo framed in rhythm & blues discipline but filled with bebop invention. The young Holloway and Gillespie chased each other in a concluding blues romp as if the future were testing the past. Neither side was found wanting. Gillespie's band will be at Blues Alley through Saturday.