Profile of Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie
David Redfern / Staff/Getty Images


October 21, 1917, he was the youngest of 9 children; his parents were James and Lottie


Cheraw, South Carolina


January 6, 1993, Englewood, New Jersey due to pancreatic cancer

Also Known As

His full name was John Birks Gillespie; one of the founding fathers of jazz and one of the inventors of bebop. He was a trumpeter known for his trademark of puffing out his cheeks while playing the trumpet. Gillespie was also a composer and bandleader. He was nicknamed "Dizzy" for his amusing antics on stage.

Type of Compositions

Gillespie was a trumpeter and showman who fused jazz with Afro-Cuban music.


James, Gillespie's father, was a bandleader but Dizzy was for the most part self-taught. He started learning to play the trombone and trumpet when he was 12; afterward he took up the cornet and piano. In 1932 he attended the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina but would soon leave to go with his family to Philadelphia in 1935. Once there, he joined Frankie Fairfax' band then in 1937 he moved to New York, eventually becoming a member of Teddy Hill's big band. Gillespie was also influenced by the trumpeter Roy Eldridge, whose style Gillespie tried to imitate early in his career.

Notable Works

Among his hits are "Groovin' High," "A Night in Tunisia," "Manteca" and "Two Bass Hit."

Interesting Facts

In 1939, Gillespie joined Cab Calloway's big band and on one of their tours to Kansas City in 1940, he met Charlie Parker. After leaving Calloway's band in 1941, Gillespie worked with other great musical figures such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. This was followed by a stint as member and music director of Billy Eckstine's big band.

Other Interesting Facts

In 1945, he formed a big band of his own which proved to be unsuccessful. He then organized a bop quintet alongside Parker, then expanded it to a sextet. Later, he once again tried to form a big band, this time managing respectable success. John Coltrane briefly became a member of this band. Gillespie's group was disbanded in 1950 due to financial problems. In 1956 he formed another big band for a cultural mission sponsored by the U.S. State Department. After that he continued to record, perform and lead small groups well into the 80s.

More Gillespie Facts and Music Sample

Aside from his trademark puffed cheeks while playing the trumpet, Gillespie was the only one who played a trumpet with the bell turned upwards at a 45-degree angle. The story behind this is that in 1953 someone fell on his trumpet stand, causing the bell back to bend. Gillespie discovered that he liked the sound and since then had trumpets specifically built the same way. Gillespie ran for U.S. Presidency in 1964.