History has produced its share of great artists and great people—John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was both. As a performer, he left behind an incredible record of innovation and inspiration. As a composer, a broad repository of musical masterpieces, and as a man, a legion of friends, colleagues and compatriots who remember him with the same degree of love and esteem they reserve for his work.
For Dizzy Gillespie, playing in a small combo was never enough. His artistry compelled him to seek and to create larger ensembles because as a composer and arranger, a big band was the ultimate vehicle for self-expression. Given that the majority of his career took place after 1950 when the big band era was over, it’s especially notable that Dizzy Gillespie continued to create brilliant music using the grand-scale formats of jazz big band and orchestra right up to the end of his life in 1993.
The Dizzy Gillespie™ Big Band and Alumni All-Star group is the direct descendant of these ventures, and happily, the tradition lives on, nurtured by Gillespie alumni and executive director, producer, and bassist John Lee.
The Alumni All-Stars feature some of Dizzy’s closest compatriots: senior statesmen and NEA Jazz Master James Moody and veteran Gillespie alumni Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, Cyrus Chestnut, Steve Davis, Willie Jones III, and musical director John Lee. All of them are band leaders, educators, and recording artists in their own right.
The small group debuted in 1996 while the Big Band debuted in 1998. Together they continue to delight audiences around the world with the enduring power and freshness of Dizzy Gillespie’s music. This is the legacy the master would have wanted—and a living tribute from the many extraordinary musicians in this group who exemplify his style, range, and commitment
Together, the Dizzy All-Stars have recorded four critically acclaimed CDs, “Dizzy's 80th Birthday Celebration” (Shanachie), “Dizzy's World” (Shanachie), and, as a big band,“Things to Come” (MCG-Jazz), and“Dizzy’s Business” (MCG-Jazz). “Dizzy’s Business” features new arrangements by musical director Slide Hampton, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, drummer Dennis Mackrel, and two vintage Ernie Wilkin’s arrangements originally commissioned by Dizzy himself.
“Dizzy’s Business” also features the bands newest member, vocalist Roberta Gambarini, who hails from Torino, Itlay, and trumpet master extraordinaire Roy Hargrove, who quite often appears with the band as a special guest.
The Dizzy Gillespie™ Alumni All-Star’s musical home would have to be New York’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club, which was for many years Dizzy’s favorite jazz club not only in New York City, but in the world. The All-Star Big Band performs there for a week every spring, and Dizzy’s birthday is celebrated for a week every October, during the week that includes October 21st, the master’s birthday.
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