Dizzy


Yesterday I was at a training presented by the Portland Housing Bureau. Their focus is providing homeownership resources to underserved populations within the Portland city limits and they are truly committed to that goal. Like most programs of this sort, there are some guidelines and policies to adhere to and the program is not for everyone. If; however, you know of anyone that is buying their first home here in Portland the Mortgage Credit Certificate program (MCC) provides a tax credit for eligible buyers and it can be a great program for the right buyer. I have been able to offer the program in the past and am excited to once again have access to it.

During the introductions yesterday we were asked to share something “interesting” about ourselves that would be unique. This isn’t always the most comfortable or fun exercise for everyone but I’ve always found it to be entertaining and I learn a lot about people I wouldn’t know otherwise. When it was my turn to share I chose an experience from when I was 19 and still in college.

Growing up, I didn’t initially like jazz. Both of my parents were occasional listeners and my sister played in various ensembles throughout high school. I had some notion of the music but I can’t say it was a real interest to me. I don’t think I really genuinely liked listening to or playing “the great American art form” until I was a Junior in high school. Through the influence of a few close friends that knew a great deal more about music than I did and a couple of music teachers as well I began to really pay attention to a few artists and musicians. And, each musician I took an interest in owed much of their style and abilities to the influences of other musicians. The deeper I explored, the deeper I wanted to go still. It was wonderful.

I’m sure you can imagine my reaction when I found out that Dizzy Gillespie would be a guest artist at my University. He was a true innovator and one of the most important jazz trumpet players in history. To have the opportunity to play with someone of his stature is an opportunity of a lifetime, to say the least.

I can’t say that the experience ended up being what I thought it would be. My impression of the man from books, videos and tapes was a larger than life figure that laughed a great deal, smoked cuban cigars and played brilliant and complex music. And oh yeah – he had huge cheeks that puffed out when he played. His humor was even in the title of his songs – Emanon is Noname spelled backwards. It was rumored that he was a great prankster and Charlie Parker would occasionally get irritated with him because the music was not being taken seriously.

The reality of meeting Dizzy was altogether different. Dizzy was old and crabby. He was impatient and at times seemed confused. During practice sessions he had a difficult time playing notes and seemed to be a bit absent-minded. And, he genuinely seemed puzzled that a group of white college students could have a genuine interest in him or the music that he helped pioneer. It was an enlightening experience but not in the way I had envisioned.

Everything changed when it was time for him to play the actual concert. His ideas flowed in a seemingly effortless flow. His trademark personality was once again on display. It was magic. He no longer seemed like a tired, old man – he was once again one of my heroes brought to life in front of a couple thousand jazz aficionados. It must have taken a lot out of him that evening but I can genuinely say he gave everything and more that night.

Rest in peace Dizzy.

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