Dizzy Gillespie and Me – Full Circle, 35 Years Later

by Jason on January 4, 2010 · 6 comments

in Teaching, Thoughts

Dizzy Gillespie - photo by Ray Avery

Dizzy Gillespie - photo by Ray Avery

If you’ve read any of my online bios or the early post on this blog called First, a Little History you already know my Dizzy Gillespie story. If not, read on…

When I was growing up we listened to lots of classical music around the house, as my dad was a big fan. The first instrument that caught my attention was the cello. I loved the low-end vibe and the voice-like quality it intoned. I decided that I wanted to play the cello, and told my teacher so in the second grade when we were told we had to pick an instrument to play. But I was a rather small child, and was told that I couldn’t handle the cello and would have to play the violin instead. The horror! I didn’t want to play the violin. But it seemed like a stepping-stone to the cello, so I agreed. However, two weeks before music classes started, everything changed. My whole school was bussed to another school in our district for a concert in their multi-purpose room. That day I saw the most amazing performance I had ever witnessed. I sat at the feet of a man wearing a dashiki and blowing the crap out of a trumpet. He was soloing, leading the band and entertaining the audience, all at the same time. It is a moment I will never forget, and one that changed my life forever. That man: Dizzy Gillespie.

After that, I knew I was a trumpet player. Plain and simple.

Since that day sometime in the mid-1970’s I’ve been searching for any kind of evidence to help me believe that I haven’t made the whole thing up – a photo, a news story, anything. I’ve contacted the school district, the presenting agency, old teachers and friends, all to no avail. It wasn’t until Facebook came along that I was able to find anyone who remembered this day. When a page went up for my old Elementary school, I posted asking if anyone else remembered, and lo and behold others were there too! I didn’t make it up!

So I started to contact all the usual subjects one more time to see if anyone had been able to turn up any physical evidence. This search led me to email the Community Engagement Manager at Stanford Lively Arts, the organization that I believe made the event happen. The response I received began like this:

Hi Jason,
Thank you so much for your message, which made my day — if not my entire week! I have just returned from a school in San Jose, with visiting artists who will be performing on the Lively Arts series this evening — an event probably very similar to the one you experienced with Dizzy Gillespie at Addison Elementary.

It went on to say that she would try to track down any information she could find. I told her I was coming down to the Bay Area in January and she asked if I might be willing to stop by Addison to give a performance/clinic while I was in town. So I contacted my Twitter friend Rob Michael, who agreed to come with me and play guitar.

So, on the morning of January 15th, Rob and I will play for an assembly in the very same multi-purpose room where I saw Dizzy and my life was changed forever. How cool is that??? It means so much to me to be given the opportunity to play the music that I love for these kids, and bring my passion to them just as Dizzy brought his to me. In light of all the talk about young people not being into jazz, I have a real-world chance to bring the music directly to a captive audience and explain to them through words and music why it makes my eyes shine. I’m excited about the chance to share my love for jazz with them and hopefully see some eyes shining back at me, as I know mine were at the end of Dizzy’s performance all those years ago.

How’s that for full circle? I can only hope to be half as inspiring as he was to me.

I will be video taping the whole thing (perhaps even live-streaming if I can figure out a way to do it) so look for a follow-up post in a couple weeks. I will also be heading to the Palo Alto library afterward to search the microfiche for a photo which I was told by an old schoolmate ran in the paper back then. Wish me luck!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam Meckler January 4, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Very cool story, Jason. Wish someone had the foresight and determination to bring someone like that to my middle school when I was just a young one. Had a similar such story with Bobby Shew at a camp I used to go to, but nothing like I am sure your seeing Dizzy was like. Can’t wait to see the photos if you can ever track them down!

steve uccello
Twitter: SteveUccello
January 7, 2010 at 3:19 am

That’s great man! What a cool story! Also have fun playing with Rob, I did a house concert with Atmos Trio in April 2009 and he is a top notch person/player. Keep up the good work!

bbebop January 15, 2010 at 9:50 am

great story, jason. hadn’t caught it before but just passed it on to one of our friends who retired recently from teaching at addison. she still does some subbing, so i’m hoping she’s in the room today!

Rob Michael January 18, 2010 at 6:29 pm

This is a great story and I’m thrilled to be involved in it on any level. It was great playing and hanging!!

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