Tuesday, June 2, 2009

for john birks "dizzy" gillespie

remembering john birks "dizzy" gillespie
(1917 - 1993)

john birks gillespie, pride of cheraw, s.c.
ninth child born & his father’s joy -- the only
one of the children to take to music.

& the music took him, early. rode him like an
òrìşà, entered his body like one consecrated,
whose instinctive playing, whose melodies,

rhythms & antics were calculated to entreat the
spirits to come down that all who heard might
be blessed, cleaned, liberated.

should’ve been cause for great joy, but he was
marked; destined to be misunderstood like all
incarnates until his special purpose was revealed.

bebop descended, overshadowed john birks who
became vertiginous & transfigured; who became
dizzy in name, essence & in reputation.

a dizzying sensation tilting within the stable
boundaries of self, tilting & spinning chasing
roy eldridge like a shadow from frankie fairfax

to teddy hill to cab calloway. young diz did not
yet understand that those not ready to receive
his guardian spirit; might gently reject or

violently repel that muse until initiated, until
prepared for such an event, until discarnate
spirits seduce & take control.

passing from band to band passing through ella,
the hawk, benny carter, charlie barnett, les hite
fess williams, claude hopkins, lucky millinder

& the duke until he met another incarnate,
another avatara descended to create & maintain
a material manifestation of a particular musical

form. diz met bird – charlie yardbird parker
that is – came together like magnitude & direction;
the high-frequency creative currents passing through

bird induced resonant eddies in diz causing him to
act out, laughing & a-clowning, his own blissfully
discrete musical nature;

perform exuberant pastimes for the pleasure of
devotees. together with a man called monk,
diz & bird revealed their special purpose; wrested

the music away from swing; from the sweet &
romantic melody, the augmented/diminished pair.
blew the music up, introduced lightning tempos,

asymmetrical phrasing, complex harmonies,
intricate melodies, emphasized weak & off beats –
ending phrases on the back end of the four beat.

deploying phrases over odd numbered bars, overlapping
phrases across bar lines; across major harmonic
cadences. transforming rhythm sections

from time-keepers into enablers; changing the bass
drum from four-to-the-bar pulsing to a bombadier
dropping depth charges, giving the drummer some

freedom to ride the hi-hats & support the soloist(s)
with shifting call & response nuances. letting the
bassman play chords, giving soloists wings that

they might ascend in arpeggios & descend in scale
steps, embracing all twelve tones, passing through
flatted fifths diminished sevenths that functioned

as sevenths with flatted ninths of all types passing
thru’ wide intervals, radical substitutions, jolting
rhythmic shifts & fissures ceaseless harmonic

explorations to settle on patterns of changing
pitches & durations, patterns of changing events
divinely aggressive, invasive, thematically

metamorphic in double time, like Şango begetting
life in death’s domain, so did diz, with a little help,
beget bebop by filling the interstices of moribund

swing with his fructifying spirit; put a brand new
face on jazz replete with puffed out cheeks, black
horn-rimmed glasses & a whimsical beret.

©Joseph McNair; 2008

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