Archive for May 6, 2011

I Never Met Dizzy

for Rotcast Ep. 15/New York at Night

I never met, or even wandered into close proximity of Dizzy Gillespie. But it might have happened. I think I was just a day late and a dollar short as they say. Let me explain. I once worked at a music store that only sold jazz. And because of this specialization, I was exposed to more jazz and jazz musicians than the general public. This was a good thing. I like jazz. Anyway, my job at the music store, gave me access to several steel cabinets filled with photographs of jazz artists. Most of these photos were publicity photos sent out with press kits to promote a record release. But in the ”G” folder, inside the cabinets were a series of snapshots of Dizzy. Dizzy Gillespie hanging out at my store! You could see from the photos this happened more than once. There were shots from the ’60s and the ’70s and later. And you could also see, he wasn’t at the store in any official capacity. The shots showed Diz totally relaxed. Dressed real casual. No horn in sight. Dizzy and the owner of this store were tight. The owner had taken these snaps. The owner was a Jewish cat who fancied himself a jazz musician. I think he did do some playing, some drumming at one time, but when I knew the old man, he was a semi-retired music store owner. He wasn’t really involved with the day to day operation of the store. That he left to his two sons.

He once took me fishing. I’m not sure why. Maybe no one else would go with him that day. I think it was a bonding thing. I don’t bond well. We anchored the boat in the Potomac rapids downstream from some rocks. I was nervous maneuvering the boat in and out of the wild water. But I had the feeling that the old man had this spot, and he’d been out to it many times. We didn’t catch any fish to speak of, but more importantly I didn’t drowned! So… it was a great time. He may have told me stories about Dizzy. I wouldn’t remember. One thing I learned during my time at the jazz store was that stories about jazz musicians by jazz musicians rarely had any resolution. They tended to end suddenly without a point. In the old man’s case, age might have something to do with his anticlimactic narratives. Consider his age a life in jazz and the smoking that would entail—is it any wonder he didn’t care to sustain any kind of dramatic arc? Still the stories started well and they sounded good. This store-owner cat had a way of speaking. He spoke in a rhythmic mumble. He punctuated phrases with “man” and occasional obscenities. It was funny.

I don’t know how close the old man and Dizzy really were, I would bet they smoked together, but none of the photos of Dizzy in the file cabinet showed the two together. The pictures were more like bird watching photos: Dizzy asleep sitting near the sunny window of the record store…Dizzy pausing mid-sandwich to wonder why his picture was being taken.

Now you can see how I might have some expectation that I might meet Dizzy Gillespie. Or at least find myself hovering several yards away from him. At the very least, I might be comp-ed into a show where Dizzy was playing live. But, as I said, this never happened. Instead…One day, the old man came into my office and set before me a CD anthology of Dizzy’s music. Dizzy had died. I was surprised the store-owner was giving me such a large collection of music. It didn’t cost him anything, but he might have sold it. In fact I wasn’t sure it was a gift at first. But it was. A nice one.