Song of the Day: Dizzy Gillespie, “A Night In Tunisia”

Bebop trumpeter and bandleader John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was born on this day in 1917. With his bent trumpet (the result of an accident at his wife’s birthday party in 1953; Dizzy liked the sound so much that he had another made with the same bend), enormous cheeks, scat singing, and easygoing personality, Dizzy was one of bebop’s major icons. He wrote "A Night In Tunisia" sometime between 1940 and 1942 (his original name for it was "Interlude"; he says that "some genius decided to name it ‘A Night In Tunisia’"), and it has become a jazz standard. Here’s a performance from 1981.

8 thoughts on “Song of the Day: Dizzy Gillespie, “A Night In Tunisia”

  1. This jazz is not my cup of tea but, man, there is no denying how great he was and love the story about the dent enhancing his sound. He always freaked me out when I would see his cheeks puff out like that.

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    1. Gary Larson, who took time off from “The Far Side” to study jazz guitar, once had a cartoon with the caption “Dizzy Gillespie as a young boy.” The kid was at a birthday party blowing a party horn with his cheeks all distended like that. That came from a lot of playing…

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  2. I don’t question why Johnny Desmond plays a sax or Ella sings scat or Pavarotti sings an aria, I just enjoy.
    As far as Dizzy is concerned, I was working him and a heckler kept shouting out. Dizzy stepped down to the apron, whipped out a straight razor and told the heckler, ‘Keep it up and I won’t just cut you, I’ll cut the air where you was.’ The heckler didn’t think Dizzy was showing off. He made a quick exit from the theater. And I also didn’t believe Dizzy was showing off.

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        1. Their priority is entertaining the audience… 😉 Doing that combines elements of both demonstrating prowess on their instruments as well as playing a decent tune. Jazz audiences appreciate the songs, many of which are standards, and they appreciate what the musicians do with them. The book “How To Listen To Jazz” by Ted Gioia goes into some detail on what jazz audiences are listening for. You might be able to find a copy at the library…

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