Jazz Trumpeter Dave Douglas Salutes the Music of Dizzy Gillespie

Dave Douglas (Courtesy of the Artist)

by Scott Thompson

Trumpeter Dave Douglas returned to The Appel Room with this cutting-edge performance on February 23–24 of Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy at Zero Gravity. He was joined by an exciting band, including a number of leaders in their own right: fellow trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Linda May Han Oh, drummer Joey Baron, and special guest guitarist Bill Frisell.

Douglas is a prolific trumpeter, composer, educator, and entrepreneur with a deep breadth of work. He is a Grammy Award nominee and regular winner of the DownBeat Readers Poll and Critics Poll for Trumpeter of the Year. In 2005 Douglas started his own record label, Greenleaf Music, releasing his recordings as well as those by a strong stable of other jazz musicians. DownBeat publisher Frank Alkyer says, “Dave Douglas is the unassuming king of independent jazz, a model of do-it-yourself moxie, initiative, and artistic freedom.”

For the Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy at Zero Gravity performances, Douglas used the Gillespie repertoire as a point of reference while pioneering forth with his own take on the legend’s gigantic contributions to the jazz art form. “Dizzy is such an enormous figure in American music. It’s hard to know where to begin,” explains Douglas. “The sheer virtuosity and daring is perhaps the first thing you notice. But there’s also a warm humanity in every note, and a vertiginous sense of freedom and play. That’s what I wanted to capture in this project. The sense of risk, the feel for play, the feeling of taking one’s time and rushing along at the same time. I feel that in 2018 we can reassess Gillespie’s music under the new principles that have developed in the years since his passing. That’s why I subtitled the project “Dizzy at Zero Gravity,” in reference to the recent advances put forward by a guiding light of this music, Wayne Shorter.

“For this special engagement at Jazz At Lincoln Center, playing the music of Gillespie with freedom and an open approach, I assembled a team of my very favorite musicians: Ambrose Akinmusire, daring and innovative trumpeter. Bill Frisell, one of my compositional and instrumental heroes on the guitar. Gerald Clayton, superb and soulful colorist on piano. Bassist Linda May Han Oh, with whom I have a long relationship in my own quintet and in the Joe Lovano co-led Sound Prints. And drummer extraordinaire Joey Baron, who played with Gillespie and brings a levity and forward motion to the music that is irresistible.”

Each musician in this super-group brings their own energy and professionalism to the bandstand. Trumpeter and Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition winner Ambrose Akinmusire makes his Jazz at Lincoln Center debut. He was recently named a recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Award and the Paul Acket “Artist Deserving Wider Recognition” award. Pianist Gerald Clayton, son of bassist John Clayton, is a rising star who has been music director of the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour since 2014. Bassist Linda May Han Oh is an extraordinary performer and composer who recently joined Pay Metheny’s touring band. Drummer Joey Baron has performed with a wide spectrum of greats, from Tony Bennett to David Bowie.

Guitarist Bill Frisell is proud to be part of Dizzy Atmosphere as a special guest. “I never had the chance to meet Dizzy Gillespie, but was lucky enough to see him perform live a number of times when he’d be passing through Denver in the ‘70s. What an astonishing musician. Ultra-modern, avant-garde… whatever you want to call it. Every stage of his career he always sounded new to me. Like nothing before or since. Uncompromising highest art level and at the same time absolutely irresistibly beautiful. He welcomed everyone in and was always inclusive.

“One time I saw him on a plane, crowded in there with the rest of us, dealing with his bags, and all the usual hassle. As we were getting off the plane he caught the eye of my daughter who was about five years old at the time. He smiled at her, waved, and tipped his hat as he headed out through the crowd to catch a cab. This was Dizzy Gillespie… a national treasure. Why didn’t he have his own plane? He ran for president. Man, I wish he was president right now! I am thankful to have been asked to join this group of amazing musicians for this project. I’m excited and very humbled to have this opportunity to spend time with Dizzy’s extraordinary music,” Frisell adds enthusiastically.

This was a brand view of the great Dizzy Gillespie. The vast knowledge and technical prowess of these musicians delivered an exhilarating evening in the beautiful, inviting Appel Room on February 23 and 24.

Douglas noted, “This was a one-of-a-kind exploration of Gillespie’s works and my own new pieces. I am grateful to Jazz At Lincoln Center for inviting me to create this work!”

Scott Thompson is an internationally published writer and Jazz publicist.
Original article credit: Playbill.com


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