Jazz collectors can be an obsessive, detail-minded bunch, so when they acquire Vol. 2 of CAP's Dizzy in South America series, they're bound to be frustrated by the fact that the credits don't give any exact recording dates or let you know exactly where in South America each 1956 performance was recorded. As frustrating as that is, however, Vol. 2 is a CD that collectors and Dizzy Gillespie fans will be glad to get their hands on. No serious Gillespie aficionado could resist hearing previously unreleased live performances of "Tin Tin Deo," "The Champ," and "Groovin' High," especially when the sound quality is decent (by 1956 standards) and the band boasts such heavyweights as Phil Woods (alto sax), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Jimmy Powell (alto sax), Walter Davis, Jr. (piano), and the tour's musical director Quincy Jones (trumpet). Gillespie has many inspired moments on trumpet, and featured vocalist Austin Cromer provides some memorable crooning on "Because of You" and "Wonder Why".
In the summer of 1956, the famed Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell arranged for Dizzy Gillespie to embark on a worldwide goodwill-ambassador tour sponsored by the State Department. Gillespie and an all-star big band featuring trumpeter Quincy Jones, the late trombonist Melba Liston, alto saxophonist Phil Woods, and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson performed in Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil to frenzied, beret-wearing fans. Recordings were made but they weren't commercially available and were played only for a select group of musicians before Gillespie's death in 1993. Now the sides have been released, showcasing Dizzy at his bebopping best.
For a time in 1988, Moe Koffman (tripling on flute, alto and soprano) teamed up regularly with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. On this CD, Koffman and his regular group (guitarist Ed Bickert, keyboardist Bernie Senensky, bassist Kieran Overs, and drummer Barry Elmes) perform three of Dizzy's tunes, originals by Koffman and Senensky, and "Lush Life" with Gillespie. Diz's trumpet playing was clearly past its prime by 1988, but his scat singing on "Oop-Pop-A-Da" is quite virtuosic and outstanding, easily the high point of this little-known set.
It's 1940s and Dizzy Gillespie's big band are at their absolute peak! Listening to this record makes me wonder why there ever became such a thing as jazz snobbery. This music doesn't sound like the domain for snobs. In fact it showcases jazz in a crucial and innovative place. Here we are in this place where swing and be-bop have long ago cross polinated eachother (one needed to have the other anyway:we all know in what way",you've got Dizzy whose at once both a great intellectual musician as well as being able to make it move. And here you have him playing with these…well nowadays you'd have to call them all stars such as Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Charlie Parker, Cozy Cole, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Clarke…the list goes on like that and BIM BAM BOOM you've got big band be-bop!
When Detroiter David Usher and Dizzy Gillespie founded the Dee Gee record label, they might have had an inkling that their project could, and would, fail financially due to poor distribution, the conversion from 78s to LPs, and the heavy hammer of the taxman. They might have felt, but could not have imagined, that they would create some of the most essential and pivotal jazz recordings for all time, not to mention some of the last great sides of the pioneering bebop era. Gillespie's large ensembles brought to public attention the fledgling young alto and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, such Detroiters as guitarist Kenny Burrell or pianist/vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and vocalists Joe Carroll, Freddy Strong and Melvin Moore. Considering the years – 1951 and 1952 – this was revolutionary breakthrough music from a technical and entertainment aspect, delightful music that has stood the test of time and displays the trumpeter in his prime as a bandleader.