Jazz ensembles to pay tribute to jazz icon, Dizzy Gillespie

For just $5 or a stable internet connection, enjoy the unique sounds of jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie as the Jazz 2.0 and ISU Jazz Combo ensembles pay tribute to his legacy.

Courtesy of Devin Palmer.

For just $5 or a stable internet connection, enjoy the unique sounds of jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie as the Jazz 2.0 and ISU Jazz Combo ensembles pay tribute to his legacy.

Ashlyn Ware

Iowa State’s jazz ensembles, Jazz 2.0 and the ISU Jazz Combos, will bring jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie’s global legacy to a local stage at Jazz Night tonight. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall in Simon Estes Music Hall. Tickets are $5 and are available at the door.

“We’re featuring the music of a particular jazz artist who is a human being who has followed his own path, made his own way through the world, to great heights and some occasional valleys,” said Mike Giles, teaching professor and director of jazz studies. “I like to celebrate his career, Dizzy’s career.”

With roughly seven weeks to prepare for each show (there are typically four each semester), the jazz ensembles have to be serious about preparation yet maintain the improvisational spirit of jazz music.

“I think all these concerts are often a nice balance of preparation and spontaneity,” Giles said. “You know, it keeps the music fresh, it keeps the performance fresh for the students. If you can balance preparation with a comfortable sense of spontaneity, then I think that raises the level of excitement of the music and, hopefully, that comes across for the audience.” 

Giles gets to choose the programming for Jazz Nights, and when asked why he chose Dizzy Gillespie, the answer came swiftly. Gillespie is one of the most recognizable figures in jazz history, what with his self-induced bent trumpet bell and his “bullfrogs cheeks,” as Giles described them.

“The jazz night concept is a performance situation for our students, and it’s a way to also inform them and our community of the riches found in jazz history,” Giles said. “So, Dizzy Gillespie is one of the most recognizable figures in the music.”

The bent trumpet bell was the result of clumsiness. Gillespie fell onto his trumpet, bending the bell, but he liked the ensuing unique sound, so he made all of his trumpet bells bent. These easily identifiable characteristics were not the only considerations Giles made in his selection.

“More importantly, he was at the beginning of what many view to be the most challenging type of jazz- the bebop period,” Giles said.

Gillespie quit playing with big bands because he wanted more opportunities to solo. Specifically, Gillespie wanted to improvise solos.

The idea of improvisation in a solo performance is nerve-wracking, but Giles explained the art of it.

“You kind of have a sketch work of how the piece works. Then you create your own ideas, patterns, melodies, all that kind of stuff, and you play into that space,” Giles said.

Gillespie’s solos had a major influence on jazz because he made the genre more accessible to all kinds of listeners.

“It’s very technical and often very cerebral, and he was not only one of the first people to found that style of music but had a way to make it accessible to the listener,” Gillespie said. “The casual listener enjoys Dizzy Gillespie on stage, and the informed listener appreciates the craftsmanship that Dizzy offers.”

According to Giles, Gillespie’s influence reached a global scale as he was the first jazz musician to embark on a U.S. State Department tour to the Middle East and Africa. The tour was an exhibition of “a proud art that our country had,” Giles said.

“Russians have the Russian Ballet, and that’s really famous and unique unto them,” Giles said. “But jazz music is unique unto us. Dizzy Gillespie is a charming character, a good spokesman for the music and obviously has high credibility. So, it was an obvious selection for him to be a representative of our music on a global scale. We’re just doing it on a local scale [tonight].”

Giles asserts his pride in his hardworking students and hopes that sharing this music will inspire the audience in uniquely meaningful ways.

“I hope that [the audience is] able to appreciate the efforts of the students and enjoy their performance,” Giles said. “And I also hope that this plants a little seed of curiosity for the audience members to go do their own discovery of jazz artists… jazz is something that really intrigues me and brings me a lot of joy, and I just hope others can find that same kind of joy and enthusiasm in something. And, hey, what if it is jazz?”

With streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube, exploring new musicians and music genres is quite simple and worthwhile. Giles said discovering new music on these platforms is similar to how jazz musicians learn.

“You kind of follow these threads and dive through these wormholes and chase particular artists around because you like what they do and you want to see them in these different settings.”

Streaming music is similar to Gillespie’s improvised solos, “It’s thrilling, and it’s personalized, meaning you’re in complete control over what you’re listening to,” Giles said. “You chose to play it or stop it or play it a thousand times or never again, you know.”

Giles enjoys picking the theme of Jazz Nights, but the selection isn’t just for his amusement; it deepens students’ study of jazz.

“I get to explore the music with them,” Giles said. “I get to share some of my insights with the students, and I get to watch these fires get lit and these lightbulbs illuminate above their heads with these new discoveries.”

Giles encourages people to check out Jazz Night and show support for the hardworking and passionate students performing.

“I hope that they’re proud of how they’re representing themselves and how they’re representing the university and how they’re giving strong and earnest efforts to do right by the music of Dizzy Gillespie,” Giles said. “And you know, anybody that’s passionate about a particular topic or subject matter deserves some attention.”

Don’t miss the tribute to Dizzy Gillespie at Jazz Night tonight, 7:30 p.m. in the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall in Simon Estes Music Hall. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door. Seats are limited. The performance will also be streamed live here.