Dizzy Gillespie Biography

Claim to Fame: Jazz musician
DOB: October 21, 1917
Date of Death: January 6, 1993
Diabetes type: Unknown

Born John Birks Gillespie in Cheraw, South Carolina, Dizzy was an influential musician, capable of incredible trumpet playing, a pioneer of the bebop movement and one of the most recognizable faces in the world of jazz. Dizzy’s music is significant in the evolution of jazz in that it incorporated Afro-Cuban, Caribbean and Brazilian music into mainstream jazz to create something original and inspiring to the 1940’s jazz community.

Dizzy grew up in Cheraw, exploring music at a young age and teaching himself trombone and trumpet before his twelfth birthday. His talents landed him a scholarship at the Laurinburg Institute in Laurinburg, North Carolina, of which he attended until, after two years, his family moved Philadelphia. At eighteen, Dizzy joined the Frankie Fairfax Orchestra, the first step in his professional career and the impetus to move to New York City.

New York brought Dizzy great success at an early age, offered positions in both the Edgar Hayes and the Teddy Hill orchestras, replacing his idol, Roy Eldridge, in the latter as first trumpeter in 1937. It happened that, while a member of the Teddy Hill Orchestra, Dizzy made his first recording with King Porter Stomp. Dizzy went on to become a free-lance musician, working with the Cab Calloway Orchestra and creating his second recording, Pickin’ the Cabbage, in 1940, until he was fired from Calloway’s company in 1941 after an altercation occurred between the two.

In 1942, Dizzy joined the Ella Fitzgerald Orchestra in which he worked for a year, before joining the Earl Hines Orchestra. At this point in his career, Dizzy had made connections with Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and other significant players in the jazz culture. However, in 1945, Dizzy made the transition from large orchestras to small, intimate “combos.” It is from out of this personal, small group dynamic that Dizzy created the multifaceted, fierce, rhythmic expression that would later be know as “bebop.”

The high energy and erratic nature of Dizzy’s new sound was not an immediate hit, but the complexity and emotion of the music would later be praised and deemed revolutionary by performers and jazz enthusiasts. Throughout the 1950’s, Dizzy buried himself in bebop and all but disappeared from the mainstream. However, in 1960, Dizzy was awarded a place in Down Beat magazine’s Jazz Hall of Fame. Dizzy would spend the rest of his life working to understand the depths of bebop and jazz, performing at various venues for drastically different audiences.

In 1992, Dizzy was hospitalized due to uncontrolled diabetes and an intestinal blockage, which required surgery. He spent the next few months recovering from the operation at home in New Jersey. During that time he received visits from his friends, including musician Wynton Marsalis and comedian Bill Cosby.

In 1993, at the age of 75, Dizzy Gillespie died of pancreatic cancer. The musician had two funerals held in his honor, one of which was a close collection of friends and family and observed at a Baha’l Church, in accordance with Dizzy’s dying wishes, and the other held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York, which was open to the public. Dizzy is remembered for his iconic “bent” trumpet, his comic, energetic style and his lasting influence on jazz with the creation of bebop.

Find more musicians with diabetes.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

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by Nicole Purcell
Isn't life all just a bit of give and take? We give things to get others, we take things to give ourselves things or to give others things (ala Robin Hood?). I think this is particularly true with diabetes. For example, at a wedding held later in the night, I might take a piece of cake to give myself either two hours of dancing OR maybe give myself a sleepless rest of the evening because of skyrocketing bloodsugar. I give myself a...