Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Ronnie Scott’s, Vols. 1-4 – Consolidated Artists/ Red Anchor (4 CDs)
Music is Forever: Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend, and Me (book)

by | Apr 12, 2015 | Jazz CD Reviews

Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Ronnie Scott’s, Vols. 1-4 – CAP 1040, CAP 1042-1044 – Consolidated Artists/ Red Anchor  (4 CDs) (8/1973-4/15) – CD 1: 65:27, CD 2: 72:50, CD 3: 68:57, CD 4: 67:41 ****:

Music is Forever: Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend, and Me Written by Dave Usher with Berl Falbaum, 194 pages – Red Anchor Productions – ISBN: 978-0-692-21110-6 (Avail. through Amazon.com as a soft cover and ebook)

(Dizzy Gillespie – trumpet; Mike Longo – piano; Al Gafa – electric guitar; Earl May – bass; Mickey Roker – drums)

Over the last few years, just as jazz fans had thought that CD collections of their favorite iconic jazz musicians were “complete” (since the legendary artists had been deceased for decades), we have been treated to welcome releases from European sources of previously unreleased material.

The latest bonanza comes from CAP (Consolidated Artists Productions) in consolidation with Red Anchor Productions, of never before heard recordings of Dizzy Gillespie’s Quintet from a two week engagement in August, 1973, at Ronnie Scott’s club in London. (CAP is owned by the quintet’s pianist, Mike Longo and Red Anchor Productions is a venture of producer Dave Usher, who co-wrote the memoir book.)

The quintet’s two week gig was a welcome relief for frazzled Londoners, who were experiencing attacks from the Irish Republican Army’s terror campaign due to “the troubles” in Northern Ireland. Just prior to Gillespie’s arrival, car bombs had caused a death and 180 injuries. Jazz was a welcome antidote, and who better than the irrepressible Dizzy to provide some musical and comic relief. Mention is made of the fact that the group had to go through police lines to reach the club.

What is so striking in listening to these four discs is the energy and enthusiasm of the band. Dizzy provides both funny comments in his song introductions as well as serious commentary (as on “The Truth”). The band members are in full sync with their leader, and had already been time tested after being on the road. Mickey Roker is a monster on the drum kit, especially with his African-influenced percussive solos. Pianist Mike Longo is both sensitive and funky on his contributions (and compositions), especially on gospel and blues tracks (i.e. “Sunshine”, “The Truth”, and “Matrix”).  Bassist Earl May is a rock solid timekeeper and his “conversations” with Dizzy are endearing. Guitarist Al Gafa (who wrote “Beyond a Moonbeam”), leads the way on “The Crossing,” which commemorates the quintet’s voyage to Europe on the SS France.   Al also has a hot solo on Dizzy’s “Ole for the French Gypsies.”

Gillespie’s prowess for samba and bossa nova are on full display throughout the Ronnie Scott gig as evidenced by “No More Blues”, “Black Orpheus”, and “Mike’s Samba” (written by Longo). Dizzy’s love of scatting is a highlight of “Oop-Pop-A-Da” as is Earl May’s walking bass.  Gillespie is also well-known for his affection for Afro-Cuban rhythms that go back to his time with Chano Pozo. On “Kush” he uses Swahili chanting on exchanges with the band and the appreciative London audience.

The fidelity on these 40 year recordings is amazing and kudos go to Peter Bould, the sound engineer at the night club. Fans of Dizzy Gillespie will want these four discs of unreleased performances that feature this jazz legend still in his prime. They are available individually for purchase.

MusicIsForeverBookReleased around the same time earlier this year is the memoir of the CDs’ producer, Dave Usher, titled Music is Forever: Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend, and Me.

It is an affectionate remembrance of his five-decade friendship with Dizzy. Beginning at the age of 14, when he met the master, and continuing until Gillespie’s passing in 1993 at age 75, Usher was a “forever friend.” Usher produced many of Dizzy’s records and was on the road with him as confidante and business partner. The two men founded Dee Gee Records back in the early 50s after Dizzy became disgusted with his label, Capitol Records. Running on a shoestring, the label recorded Gillespie as well as early recordings from members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, and Thad and Elvin Jones. Based out of Detroit, Dee Gee even recorded the then unknown Jackie Wilson, as Sonny Boy Wilson!… Usher was only 21 years old at the label’s inception. His recollection of recording James Moody at the time of his treatment for alcohol addiction at the Overbrook Sanitarium in New Jersey is especially moving.

Co-written with Berl Falbaum, they chronicle a major portion of Gillespie’s life with chapters on Dizzy’s tour to South America, his Baha’i faith, his “run for President”, as well as his views on race, and his visits to the White House. The two men were like soul brothers, though of different faiths and backgrounds. Usher also shares details of his “other life” as a world renowned expert on oil and hazardous waste removal. Undoubtedly, his love for jazz kept him grounded…

The cover photo of the book, taken in Nice, France in 1987, is enough to show the bond between Dizzy and Dave. It’s a very enjoyable read, as well, for fans of John Birks Gillespie…

CD TrackList:

CD 1: Sunshine, Black Orpheus, Con Alma, The Truth, Timet

CD 2: A Night in Tunisia, Matrix, Beyond a Moonbeam, Groovin’ High, The Blues,

           Brother K, Manteca

CD 3: The Crossing, Ole’ For the Gypsies, Something in Your Smile, No More Blues,

Olinga, Oo Popa Dah, Birk’s Works

CD 4:  I Told You So, Kush, Summertime, Alligator, Mike’s Samba, Bye

—Jeff Krow

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