I hope you didn’t think I was playing with Diz? — That’s absolutely not the case.
It was in May 1990 where I met him at first for just the seconds it took to present him a demo-cassette of my septet Blue Seven & The Ghosts I had the doubtful pleasure to lead then.
He performed in Köln (Cologne) with his quintet which I did not appreciate very much because these guys just were a pick-up-group (Sorry, but I definitely erred here. This was no “pick-up-group” for sure: Dizzy Gillespie (tp) Ron Holloway (ts) Ed Cherry (g) John Lee (b) Ignacio Berroa (d) – Cologne Philharmonic, Wednesday, May 2, 1990). But he really blew great as ever, with wit and spirit, especially during ‘Round Midnight which I still remember being a highlight of this concert.
The 1st Meeting
The „meeting“ happened right after the concert. I kept him from walking straight from the Kölner Philharmonie to his hotel with just saying: „Hey Mr. Gillespie! I don’t want anything from you. – I got something for you!“ He took the tape, holding it far away from his far-sighted eyes, then looking at his road-manager saying: „I made a mistake. I stood still!“ Because at once a bunch of people was surrounding him. I walked away, happy at first and then a bit worried because of Dizzy’s complete disappearing in the middle of a crowd caused by me.
In October that very same year he again performed in Cologne with his United Nation’s Orchestra I also don’t appreciate very much. But this time I couldn’t attend the concert because I performed myself with a two-trumpet-two-rhythms „avant-garde“ group called The Streetfighters.
So I wrote a small letter with a photo asking him if he’d remember me and my tape and if he’d like to give a comment, a kind of feedback. Later that day I just called him and even got him at the phone: „Hello Mr. Gillespie!“ He: „I lost the cassette!“ Me: „Oh no problem. – I got a new one for you. May I visit you tomorrow?“ He, yelling into the room, very dynamic: „At what time do we leave?“ – Short reply by an off-voice. – Then Diz again: „Okay, come at 10 o’clock.“
The 2nd Meeting
The other day I just walked into this hotel Symphonie right in front of the Philharmonie. The visit lasted three hours. I was almost silent watching my „god“ and his way of fooling around with the guys of the band. He was such a kind and funny man! I even played on his trumpet, then a light-weight Schilke I guess. Diz, in the elevator: „Cool articulation.“
Before I‘d told him: „Now I can tell all my friends ‘I played on Dizzy’s horn’!“ He: „They would wonder what kind of horn that would have been!“ Laughing his typical bleat. Later we had breakfast.
I also had the pleasure of cleaning his glasses. He frankly asked: „Bruno, what do you think of the German reunion?“ – „It’s great!“, I only replied. Right before that breakfast I asked him in the elevator about his favorite solo. He: „I’m never content with my solos on records.“ Blog owner’s proposal: Discussions among trumpeters always should take place in elevators.
In later years I could have bitten my ass (German expression) that I didn’t protest and why I didn’t praise at least his really great solo on Perdido at Massey Hall on May 15, 1953 (feel free to click for listening to the complete album).
But I just shut my mouth for almost three hours because I was so happy about meeting my master. He knew that, I guess. After asking him what he thought about my now and then favorite trumpeter/ composer Booker Little, he repeated his name with amazement and added Lee Morgan.
I said I couldn‘t play that high and fast. Dizzy stated that an improviser shouldn‘t focus on that too much. „That‘s not important, Bruno.“ — One can imagine that I felt much better after that statement.
In the lobby at the reception where he left his key, a young and quite nervous fellow came along: „Mr. Gillespie, can I have an autograph?“ Diz: „Hey man, that’s not a complete sentence. There’s a word missing. – Repeat!“ The boy repeated, now kinda scared of course: „Mr. Gillespie, can I have an autograph?“ And Diz, in pointing straight at the guy‘s breastbone: „It must be: Mr. Gillespie, may I have an autograph *please*!“ But the boy got his autograph eventually, and ran away, then a bit smaller. — Some 10 years later I learned that he is the brother of a guitarist with whom I had a gig recently.
By the way, I don’t know what happened to my cassette. I just know this: I met Dizzy right one day after his birthday. And some members of his orchestra gave him a walkman but without a cassette to play. So he must have listened to it. It contained entirely my compositions and arrangements. My band then sounded in the kind of Mingus with traces of Monk and Ellington (great company, I know!). I hope he appreciated it at least a bit.
Years later, after Dizzy’s death I searched for the photograph. I was browsing a book on Dizzy’s last tour in Europe. There I bumped by chance into the name of Charles “The Whale” Lake, who was Dizzy’s personal manager. I wrote to the editor who gave me Mr. Lake’s address. Then I wrote to Mr. Lake in Maryland. Weeks later I called him. Again weeks later I held in hand what is the only evidence of this tiny event for mankind but a great one for me.
Dizzy was a wonderful human being. There is a bitter need for people of his kind!
In my story I forgot to tell that I had – beside the demo tape – another gift for Dizzy: A piece of sweet bread which is only sold in the last October days into November, ’round St. Martin’s day. It’s called Weckmann, or – in Southern-Germany where I grew up – Dampedei, and it looks a bit like a, though light-brown voodoo-puppet.
The eyes and mouth are made of raisins. There sometimes are attached a sweet lollypop and a small clay-pipe. It was the only present which came to my mind when I was on my way to the hotel around 10 o’clock in the morning. If you want to know more about it, just ask some folks whose forefathers came from Germany. They certainly will know about this special “bread”. Dizzy looked at it, laughed out loudly and said: “Oh that’s bread!”
That’s all I can tell you about the “event”.
ⓒ Bruno Leicht, October 2007, revised in July 2013 & in October 2017.
More about Dizzy Gillespie
Our latest (recorded) version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight is dedicated above all to my great mentor & master, the one & only Mr. John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie & to the whole band of my sisters & brothers in sound: Charlie Parker, Sonny Berman, Miles Davis, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, Martha Tilton, Glenn Miller, Charlie Barnet, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Billy May, Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, John Coltrane, Anita O’Day, Eric Dolphy, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Lee Konitz, Astor Piazzolla, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Cage, Feldman & Ives … not to mention all the wonderful musicians who played with me, and who are sharing my love for the greatest music ever: