John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie

Credit Line
John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Mosley documents two of jazz greatest and well-known trumpet players, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (1901–1971) and John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (1917–1993). Armstrong, known for his pioneering swing sound, never developed a love for Gillespie’s bebop jazz, sparking rumors of a rivalry between the two. Both men routinely dismissed this rumor and were friends.

Armstrong, a virtuoso trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer, and occasional actor, became one of the most influential jazz musicians and best loved entertainers of the 20th century. He transformed the trumpet into a solo instrument capable of an astonishing range and lyrical beauty. His distinctive gravelly voice was recognized as the voice of jazz in the 1950s.

Armstrong was born in a poor section of New Orleans and was harmonizing on street corners and playing a toy horn by age eleven. Throughout his teenage years, he was in and out of the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys where he began taking music lessons and earning a reputation as a fine blues player. During the 1930s and 40s, he formed Louis Armstrong and His All Stars, which had a rotating cast of “all stars” including Earl Hines (whose photograph by Mosley hangs nearby).

Mosley captures the distinctive balloon-like cheeks of Gillespie playing his trumpet. Born in South Carolina, Gillespie began playing piano at the age of four and received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. When he was eighteen years old, he moved with his family to Philadelphia. After joining the Frankie Fairfax Orchestra in 1939, he relocated to New York City and joined the Cab Calloway band in 1939.

Gillespie played faster, higher, and with more aggressive energy, melodic daring, and rhythmic invention than any trumpeter before. Along with saxophonist Charlie Parker, he ushered in the era of bebop. He began incorporating musical idioms from Cuba, the Caribbean, and South America into his compositions and brought a new international sensibility to jazz. Bebop is characterized by fast tempos, complex chord progressions, and improvisation.

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