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Dizzy, Yardbird and the Prince of Darkness

Updated on September 25, 2010

Dizzy Gillespie



In 1945, a group called Charlie Parker and His Re-Boppers performed a jazz composition called "Billie's Bounce." The original lineup of the group featured Charlie "Yardbird" Parker on the alto saxophone, Miles "Prince of Darkness" Davis playing trumpet, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie on the piano, Dillon "Curley" Russell with the string bass and Maxwell "Max" Roach on the drums.

John Birks Gillespie was the early strong influence in a creative revolution, that like hip hop today, challenged the mainsream of music and stretched the boundaries of arrangement and rhythm of the swing bands of the thirties. When he was thirteen, he started playing a friend's trumpet. One night he heard Roy Eldridge playing trumpet over the radio. Roy was a member of Teddy Hill's Orchestra who was being broadcast from the Savoy Ballroom in New York City. Dizzy fell in love with Eldridge's playing and from that night on, he dreamed of becoming a jazz musician.

Gillespie got his nickname ‘Dizzy’ as a young trumpeter in swing bands in the 1930s by his showmanship, his antics and his lighthearted personality. Using a non-classical technique, he blew out his cheeks like balloons which has been drawn and photographed into icon status. He was instantly recognizable because he wore a beret and horn-rimmed specs, and with his pouched cheeks, played a strange trumpet of his own bent-angle design. Gillespie played piano as well as trumpet, and he studied harmony closely, even as a young man for scales and phrases that might work with the different chords.

The young Gillespie soon got bored with his jobs in the big-bands. The music was popular with audiences, but didn’t stretch him, or provide an outlet for his new ideas. In the early 1940s in New York, he began to meet other jazz musicians of his own age who felt the same way he did – including the saxophonist Charlie Parker.

"He had just what we needed. He had the line and he had the rhythm. The way he got from one note to the other and the way he played the rhythm fit what we were trying to do perfectly. We heard him and knew the music had to go his way…. He was the other half of my heartbeat."
~ Dizzy Gillespie

They started to meet late at night, after their regular gigs were over, in a Harlem nightclub called Minton’s. There, they developed a new way of playing – and because it was fast, tended to use a lot of notes, jerky lines and strange melodies by the standards of the popular music of the day, they called it rebop, or bebop.

"Charlie Parker showed Dizzy a way of playing that almost eliminated that swing feel that Dizzy had in the early '40s, but that also incorporated those harmonic ideas that they both created. So I think the way of getting from one note to the next was very much Charlie Parker's influence on Dizzy. But if Charlie Parker was the stylist, Dizzy was sort of the architect that taught the musicians how to build the music … Dizzy said that Charlie Parker used to come over to his house, and Dizzy's wife Lorraine wouldn't let him in, so Charlie Parker would be in the hallway playing and Dizzy would write it down, and then show it to the other musicians. So Dizzy took the things that Charlie Parker got off the top of his head...and he would show other musicians."
~ Jon Faddis

Dizzy and Satchmo

The Genius of Charlie Parker


Charlie "Yardbird" Parker was one of the most influential improvising soloists in jazz, and a central figure in the development of bebop in the 1940s. A legendary figure in his own lifetime, he was idolized by those who worked with him, and he inspired a generation of jazz performers and composers.

"Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker."
~ Miles Davis summarizing the history of jazz

He was bored with the stereotyped changes that were being used then. He said, "I kept thinking there's bound to be something else…. I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn't play it." At Don Walls' Chili House, in jam sessions with guitarist Bill "Biddy" Fleet, Parker found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes he could play what he had been "hearing."

"Bird's mind and fingers work with incredible speed. He can imply four chord changes in a melodic pattern where another musician would have trouble inserting two."
~ Leonard Feather

"Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art." ~ Charlie "Yardbird" Parker

In the early forties Parker regularly participated in after-hours jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House in New York, where the informal atmosphere and small groups favored the development of his personal style and of the new bop music. Although he was arguably jazz's foremost innovator, he was brilliant at improvising changes to such standards as his showpiece "Cherokee." He also was deeply interested in the modern symphonic works such as Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok. Like many of the musicians he performed with, he pursued a self-destructive lifestyle and heroin addiction which led to a breakdown and hospitalization. Afterward, however, he was able to record his most famous and influential works. His career spanned the decade from 1945 to 1955, and despite his self-destructive lifestyle and early death,  Parker remains one of the twentieth century's most innovative instrumentalists and composers. Many feel that his tunes "Ko Ko" and "Billie's Bounce" single-handedly gave rise to bebop.

“The greatest feeling I ever had in my life – with my clothes on – was when I heard Diz and Bird back in 1944. I’ve come close to matching the feeling of that night, but I’ve never quite got there. I’m always looking for it, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play…” ~ Miles Davis

Cool and Stylish Miles Davis


Prince of Darkness

Miles Dewey Davis was born on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois. His family moved to East St. Louis shortly thereafter, by the age of thirteen he received a professional-grade trumpet as a birthday gift. He would often cross the river and listen to the famous jazz musicians who came through on the riverboats. It was in St. Louis he met Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

After high school, Miles wanted to be in New York where the jazz action was and so he enrolled in Juilliard. He roomed with Charlie Parker and together they played the clubs at night and attended school by day. He learned to combine the classical training with the wild and exciting relationships of notes and rhythms he encountered with Bird in the clubs. Gradually Miles began to get away from the super quick tempo bebop and began experimenting with smoother, softer styles which led to his release of the album "Birth of the Cool" in 1950.

Like his idol Charlie Parker, Miles had battles with drug addiction that threatened to destroy his career. When he realized the addiction was ruining his life, Miles went to his father's farm and decided to quit "cold turkey."

Miles Davis was the most successful jazz artist of his time. He recorded and released over 100 albums, including "Birth of the Cool," "Kind of Blue," "Workin," "Relaxin," "Steamin," "Sketches of Spain," "Bitches Brew," "On the Corner and Live at the Plugged Nickel. " He often turned his back on the audience, much like a conductor, and this led people to believe he was arrogant, but he related it was just a better way to give cues and lead the music direction. He set styles in music, fashion and the social set. Shortly before his death in 1991, he was working on a synthesis of the cool with rap called "Doo Bop." One of the best and most authentic biographies is one called "The Autobiography" by Quincy Troupe which was made entirely from audio comments of Miles about his life and then transcribed. (Davis, M & Troupe, Q, 1989, Miles: The Autobiography, Picador, Great Britain.)

Don't play what's there, play what's not there. ~ Miles Davis

Dizzy, Bird and Miles

Miles "Round Midnight"


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    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      You are too kind EG, I really appreciate your gracious words. I try not to be obsessive about these articles, but when you have giants like these three you just have to do them justice. Thank you for the epic review. =:)

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago hub of all time Mr. Cusak and it's "in your eyes"

      to put together the ultimate tribute as you have done here - why do I know this - because I am a die hard jazz afficionado and it dosen't get any better than this.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      You are so welcome Micky. I love the idea of them sneaking across the river to hear the steamboat jazz players. I would have gone for that in high school. =:)

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      8 years ago

      Very, very nice. This was such great music. These artists are still inspiring. Thanks for the trip!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Ha Ha, thank you for helping me with the youtube. I figured anybody with a gojillion youtube videos on their hubs oughta know their stuff. I think it sounds cooler in black and white don't you? =:)

    • JBeadle profile image

      J Beadle 

      8 years ago from Midwest

      What a nice solid, comprehensive and interesting hub about Jazz. Nice youtube additions too! :-)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Delighted for you to do so Tony and when I figure out how to make a link, I'll do the same for yours. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      You're too kind Skyfire, music is the universal language and everyone has their own accent. Many of the early jazz artists were musicians in trance at some time or other. =:)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      I really enjoyed this one about three of my favourite musicians. I will link this to some of my jazz Hubs. Thanks a lot.

      Jazz is the greatest music and these are some of its greatest exponents.

      Love and peace


    • skyfire profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm not much into jazz as i'm hardcore trance listener. You inspired me to write about best musicians, maybe i'll come up with hub about musicians in trance. keep writing, winsome :)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Yea! That was easy. Now to figure out how to link.... =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Thank you friend Sage. I welcome any refinements of facts and/or interesting anecdotes that any have and I will add to the hub. I would really like to honor these three pioneers of jazz by creating a fitting tribute. Now if I could just figure out how to add a youtube..... =:)

    • Sage Williams profile image

      Sage Williams 

      8 years ago

      An interesting, very informative and very well written hub. You did some fine research on this one. Love the pictures as well. They really add an extra touch.


    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      So true Pamela! That's a good lesson for us, if you don't walk the walk, don't talk the talk. =:) Thank you for stopping by.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Great hub about some of the best musicians. I like that saying, "if you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn" That statement explains why these men are unique as they played from their souls.


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