Like many a youth whose childhood does not provide the unconditional love they expect from a parent, in this case his father, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie took to getting into trouble and often found himself fighting his peers to tame his anger within. The youngest of nine children in Cheraw, South Carolina, Dizzy first learned to play the piano at the early age of four. Enter a trumpet given to him by a teacher and let’s just say that he believed that he had truly found his calling. As a teen, Dizzy was employed in several orchestras, including Cab Calloway‘s, where his lighthearted and unconventional personality was met with shock from such older and staid musicians. Nevertheless, the name “Dizzy” stuck, as did his penchant for the eccentric.
From that point on, Dizzy became heavily involved in Bebop music, Jazz’s often-spurned cousin in those days, then migrated over to Afro-Cuban Jazz. As one of its founders, Dizzy became as well-known for Afro-Cuban compositions such “Tin Tin Deo,” as well as his Bebop classic “Salt Peanuts.” His plethora of amazing compositions aside and collaborations with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, Dizzy was most known for his overly inflated cheeks when he played his trumpet, infectious personality, and megawatt smile. According to his cousin and drummer Phil Gillespie, Dizzy was the always the consummate jokester and “his facial expressions and his laugh were great.”