A Brush with Dizzy

A Brush with Dizzy

October 21, 2011 Off By The Jazz Messenger

In 1991, I had the honor of meeting Dizzy Gillespie while covering the Monterey Jazz Festival for the bulletin board version of Jazz Online (pre web) and KJAZ. My press credentials gave me access to the artist lounge which was located directly behind the main stage area. Everyone, who was anyone, hung out there during the festival especially from the late afternoon until the wee hours of the morning.

On the first night of the festival, I entered the lounge around 4pm only to bump into the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet: Connie Kay, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Milt Jackson – all of whom could not have been more warm, inviting and funny as well as class acts. And in fact it was Milt Jackson who actually introduced me to Dizzy who hung out in his own corner of the lounge. I remember Bags taking me by the hand and saying to Diz, “Hey Birks, you got to meet this kid he knows everything about our records.” Dizzy stood up and shook my hand and greeted me. He was serious and not the playful guy I thought he would be but he was friendly and respectful. I was nervous and said a few things to him which probably sounded lame and even asked him to sign a CD cover of the famous Jazz At Massey Hall recording. After he signed the cover, I was able to snap this photo. What a thrill.

As I think about Dizzy on his birthday and that special occasion to meet him, I can’t help but marvel what an original he was and how we could really use him right about now to be the ambassador of jazz. Here are some reminders of his brilliance and legacy. Long live Diz! – JV

Official Dizzy Gillespie Site