DIZZY, 1979 by PAUL PAX ANDREWS
I was studying jazz full-time and invited to play tenor at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Northside Big Band from Manly. We were invited to Dizzy’s rehearsal; eleven AM, second day at the Festival… Saturday. Entering the room, I was so excited, buzzing, but where is everyone? The place should be packed, what happened to the other guys? Just twelve of us, including the band. Stan Getz sporting his Ray-Bans, standing next to me with arms folded waiting, listening and watching. Then, in one fantastic moment, Dizzy transformed his stark rehearsal space into a glowing cathedral, now with each of us transfixed. Every move, each sound and every whisper; we wanted to hear it. Each prayer. I was standing breathless on the moon in jazz heaven, feeling Dizzy Gillespie’s bliss on earth with Roy Haynes’ white smile and panama hat, it was unbelievable I could reach over and touch him. The sounds of a different drummer as his legendary brushes coaxed a robust solid platform for the rhythm section, swinging so hard. Rufus Reid was sensational with his fat tone and big smile. An Afro-groove goin’ on, he is rocking back and forth and leaning forward away out over the bass, dancing. Dizzy is jiving and joking with Roy, “No! Like this, man! I’m only showing you one more time!” Taking the drumstick and demonstrating on the cymbals (he was hilarious); Roy is laughing his gorgeous grin. Two old buddies happy to be together again, chuckling, giggling. Big Black on conga handed all of us a passport to Africa with John Lewis, modern-jazz piano history. Oh man, this was a beautiful rhythm section. ‘Summertime’ then ‘Manteca’ as if it was the first time they had played them. Dizzy is high on the horn, as high as. Yet what blew me away was his tone, somehow shy or delicate like Miles, but I hadn’t expected that from Dizzy with his big open song. The sweetest cup-mute, so gentle, I will never forget.
“It is the vulnerability in my sound that makes it irresistible,” Miles explained about his mutes.
“Let’s go Diz!” called his crazy skinny manager (wearing a bad loud orange-check jacket) hassling after every song. “You need to rest and eat Diz!” or… “Three hours till the gig, man. Dizzy!” Meanwhile, the legend wasn’t paying no mind but enjoying each moment, ignoring him totally whilst playing a game he had obviously played many times. In his greatness, he could still play life with a childlike freshness. Laughing aloud. Big smiles.
He started into ‘Con Alma’ and the mood returns to serious beauty; such energy, and lyrical beyond my imagination. Roy has picked up the sticks and is driving a freeway. I am so high. We all are. What a song!
Another ten minutes of joy and then, “Dizz!” again. He started to put his horn away and each of us is raving, so excited and alive. The room was in ecstasy now, tripping, high on our own tower, given to us by our all-time hero. Pumping, throbbing. I am speechless, holding my breath, not wanting these moments to end, disbelieving my incredible once in a lifetime luck. This has to be a dream. Then…
Suddenly the room became silent once more, as the familiar intro to Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ lures us. She is blind and John Lewis had led her to the piano, golden retriever at her feet. South American, raven haired, so calm. She is Brazilian, maybe. Then our focus shifted to Him, all of us hoping, waiting to see if Dizzy would play some more. He didn’t disappoint us (but his minder has brow in hand). Trumpet muted, and soft with the assuredness that only a lifetime of playing can deliver. Sensational. She smiles sweetly throughout and delivers Him the most wonderful partner play. As the two sing away, tears well-up inside me and I am overwhelmed, choked in my emotions, just forgetting to breathe sometimes. Heaven for ten minutes more. Heaven on Earth. Where else can it be but in this moment, each new moment. My life changed, right there. Again, I felt a sense of great responsibility to my new life as a musician and wanted to thank Him. Once more Dizzy returned to his trumpet case and started to pack up.
I followed Him to the other end of the room and said something, shaking his welcoming hand. His voice was low and guttural, yet sweet “Ah, Sydney huh, I love Australia, they grow some nice weed there and everyone’s so friendly. Have you had a smoke?” He grinned. “Not in California, so far,” I replied, but not thinking what I am saying. “What? You haven’t had a smoke. We had better fix that.” He unpacked a film container and a little pipe, placed it in my mouth, then offered me a light whilst raving about Monterey. How happy he is to see Roy Haynes again; then he started rolling me a little joint, which he placed in my top pocket after his turn on the pipe. I will never forget his beautiful face. “You’re gonna have a great ol’ time.” I am so high and can’t recall much else (except his hovering manager who had arrived once more to remind Dizzy of his schedule, and who we commandeered to take a photo) but what blew me out, was that he had time for a kid from the other side of the globe. A beautiful caring man. I was soaring for a month after meeting Dizzy! Music has given me so many wonderful gifts; hearing and meeting those incredible sculptures of sounds.
The next day, after our set with the Northside (partying in the green room) when a reporter approached me. Microphone in hand he asked, “You are one of the young musicians from Sydney, Australia. Tell me: it must be a thrill to be here. What was the highlight of the 1979 Monterey Jazz Festival for you?” (Right question, wrong guy!) “Getting high with Dizzy,” I replied, truthfully. “CUT! Cut.” He shouted, waving his arms at his assistant and scorning. We all broke up laughing; I was just a kid but I should have known better. By the time we got home, the story had grown into me making that faux pas on National Television. Monterey was amazing and after an hour with Dizzy I went to Woody Herman’s big band rehearsal where Stan Getz is like practising in the corner right behind Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry who are arm in arm and raving away together, chuckling, all smiles. Gerry Mulligan is reading his charts and Woody, eighty years old, alto in hand is chatting about the set list to Slide Hampton. John Lewis sits at the piano again, noodling and flipping pages. What a band, Sonny’s amazing sound is leading the section singin’ ‘Early Autumn’, with Dizzy blowing over the top. I took two rolls of film on my Praktica and somehow they have survived. (You-tube / paxrecords) My daughter found the negatives and I scanned them. It was wonderful to see some of them again, after thirty years. Dizzy was so happy on that weekend but I suspect he was mostly like that. Beyond that tremendous sound, I will never forget his humanity and grace.
from Without A Song © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews
Ebook available @ Smashwords
This excerpt appears in Contrappasso Magazine #2, December 2012
Photography © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews. Reprinted by permission.