Dizzy is 100 today

October 21st, 2017

 

 

______

 

Dizzy Gillespie — born 100 years ago today — recalls his childhood in this excerpt from his 1979 autobiography, To BE, or not…to BOP

 

*

 

The pictures show me as a very beautiful boy, but I was the last of nine children and my arrival probably didn’t excite anybody.  So many people had been born at our house before.  I don’t think Mama felt too blessed about having nine children, unless “blessed” means “wounded” like it does in French.  She probably figured someone had put the bad mouth on us.

Every Sunday morning, Papa would whip us.  That’s mainly how I remember him.  He was unusually mean; and hated to see or hear about his children misbehaving.  “Wesley!  John!  Come on and get your whipping!”  He’d tell us good morning that way, sometimes before we could wake up good, and we’d have to go on up to him and take it.  Papa was big and bad, waving that strap.  Sometimes, I’d holler, “But I didn’t do nothing,” try to to duck him and hide up under the bed.  As soon as I bent over and tried to get away, “Whack!” he’d hit me again; Papa never missed.

“Well, what did you do wrong?” people always ask when I tell them that my father used to beat me every Sunday.  I have to explain it to them over and over again.  They find it hard to believe that the whippings I got were for anything and everything that I’d done during the week because Papa was sure that I must’ve done something wrong in that span of time.  Papa believed that a hard head made a soft behind.  He treated us that way because he wanted us all to be tough and he turned me into a tought little rebel, very early, against everyone but him.  He was a real man, who roared when he talked, because with so many kids around he had to be strong.  I was scared of him, but after a while, I started doing some bad things to warrant all those whippings.

Only seven of us lived long enough to get a name.  Edward Leroy (Sonny) my eldest brother was born in 1900, but he died in the thirties, before I moved to Philadelphia in 1935.  Sonny left home when I was only six years old so I don’t actually remember him too well.

Mattie Laura, James Penfield, Jr. (J.P.), Hattie Marie, Eugenia, and Wesley were my other brothers and sisters.  My parents, James and Lottie (Powe) Gillespie, christened me John Birks soon after my birth in Cheraw, South Carolina, on October 21, 1917.

 

*

Excerpted from To BE, or not…to BOP by Dizzy Gillespie, with Al Frazer

 

 

In 2004, I hosted a conversation, “Remembering Dizzy Gillespie,” with Nat Hentoff and James Moody that you may enjoy reading.

 

 

 

 

Share this:

One comments on “Dizzy is 100 today”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

photo of Sullivan Fortner by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Interview

photo by Michael Lionstar
In a wide-ranging interview, Nate Chinen, former New York Times jazz critic and currently the director of editorial content for WBGO (Jazz) Radio, talks about his book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century,, described by Herbie Hancock as a “fascinating read” that shows Chinen’s “firm support of the music

Short Fiction

photo by Alysa Bajenaru
"Crossing the Ribbon" by Linnea Kellar is the winning story of the 51st Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest

Poetry

photo of Stan Getz by Veryl Oakland
Seventeen poets contribute to the Summer, 2019 collection of jazz poetry reflecting an array of energy, emotion and improvisation

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

Pressed for All Time
In an excerpt from his book Pressed for All Time, Michael Jarrett interviews producer John Snyder about the experience of working with Ornette Coleman at the time of his 1977 album Dancing in Your Head

Art

"Dreaming of Bird at Billy Bergs" - by Charles Ingham
“Charles Ingham’s Jazz Narratives” — a continuing series

Poetry

Painting of John Coltrane by Tim Hussey
“broken embouchure” — a poem by M.T. Whitington

Art

photo of Chet Baker by Veryl Oakland

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Yusef Lateef and Chet Baker

Interviews

photo by Francis Wolff, courtesy of Mosaic Records
Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, discusses her late husband’s complex, fascinating life.

Poetry

photo from Pixabay
“The Fibonacci Quartet Plays Improv” — a poem by Gerard Furey

Short Fiction

photo by Gerd Altmann
“In Herzegovina, near the Town of Gorjad,” a story by Nick Sweeney, was a finalist in our recently concluded 51st Short Fiction Contest.

In the previous issue

Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...

Contributing writers

Site Archive