Sunday, July 02, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days # 011: Dizzy Gillespie Big Band: Manteca b/w Things to Come

This is an imaginary two-fer 78: Manteca (co-authored by Dizzy and Chano Pozo) and Things to Come. They weren’t released together, but if they had been, you could take the resulting record to the proverbial desert island and have a pretty good grasp of some of the major developments in jazz. After having played with Cab Calloway, schooled Miles Davis, and (with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk) created the art music called bebop, Dizzy, a consummate showman, put together his own big band in 1945. Having played in Cab’s band and in the prototypical big band of Earl Hines (which also included Sarah Vaughan, Bird, and Billie Eckstine), Dizzy knew what he wanted in a big band, but he was also looking forward. One of the great musicologists and teachers in the history of jazz, he had become interested in the Afro-Cuban music he and other jazzmen heard on after-hours gigs in Spanish Harlem, the bands of the great Desi Arnaz and Arsenio Rodriguez. Dizzy could hear the connections between the cross-accents and “dropped bombs” being worked out by Jo Jones, Kenny Clarke, and Max Roach and the poly-rhythms which form the basis of Afro-Cuban music—and he was enough of a nationalist and an historian to trace both to Africa. When he put together the Big Band, it was with the express purpose of bringing his vision of bebop to a wider audience on tour, and of making a show out of it. He never quite succeeded, losing money on the band’s only tour of the South, presumably because the lindy-hoppers couldn’t figure out how to dance to the band’s powerhouse bebop charts (Dizzy disagreed, saying “I could dance to it; I could dance the fuck out of it”).

What becomes apparent in hindsight is that the Big Band’s great contribution was to point forward, past a time when bebop had to find a market with dancers, to when it, and its language, could make its way into the academy. Every high-school and college big band owes a debt to Dizzy’s, because he found a way to translate bebop’s intensity, dynamic interaction, and virtuosity out of the hanging-by-its-fingernails chamber setting of the quintet, to the size, volume, and power of the 16-piece band. Things to Come is still a standard chart at North Texas and at Indiana, where the real hot-shot college bands can be found.

Dizzy is also, of any 20th-century musician, probably the single individual most responsible for the melding of styles which yielded Latin jazz. In order to further his own education in this area, Dizzy brought the great Cuban drummer Chano Pozo to New York. Chano, a singer and conguero, was a respected priest in the sect of Santeria, the syncretic religion combining elements of African and Catholic belief. Music, and more specifically drum rhythms, are an essential part of Santeria’s possession ceremonies, and Chano was admired for his compositional ability. When he and Dizzy met, neither spoke more than a few words of the other’s language, but as Dizzy said “we communicated through music.” Manteca (Spanish slang for lard) was one of their first co-compositions. Built on a foundation of Chano’s drumming and singing, the track layers brass, reeds, and percussion one after another in interlocking rhythms, in the fashion of a Santeria ensemble. Dizzy contributes the contrapuntal brass themes and the swing bridge and the band burns throughout.

These two tracks might be my own desert-island big-band tracks; it’s fantastic music, especially considering it was recorded in 1948.

Absolutely astonishingly prescient stuff.

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