Perhaps nothing signifies the age of jazz after the decline
of the big bands like the small combo—a quartet, a quintet fronted by a great
saxophonist or trumpeter on a cramped stage in a smoke filled club—tearing up
the joint with their creativity in the moment. You didn’t have to be in
Manhattan to hear great music; you could walk into a place like Pittsburgh’s
legendary Crawford Grill on almost any night and be sure to hear something
So when tapes of one of a trumpet grandmaster like Dizzy
Gillespie playing live at Ronnie Scott’s in London in August of 1973 are
rediscovered in the club basement, tapes filled with enough previously
unreleased music to fill four CDs, it is a nothing short of a major event. Dizzy
Gillespie’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s,
Volumes 1-4 make for the kind of treasure that will warm both the heart and
more importantly the ears of happy jazz fans all over the planet.
One note, while three of the album covers (including Volume
1) indicate that these are “never before heard/ unreleased performances,”
Amazon is offering a 2010 recording of Volume 1.
Gillespie was coming off 30 days of one night touring for a
two week gig with his quintet at Scott’s and he was at the top of his game. The
crowds loved him and artist that he is he was well aware of how to work them.
Listen to his charged rant on music and slavery that serves as an introduction
to “The Truth” on Volume 1.
Nonetheless it is really all about the music. And working
with Al Gafa on guitar, Mike Longo on piano, Earl May on bass and Mickey Roker
on drums, Gillespie put out some fine music. Volume 1 contains five tracks,
opening with the Longo composition “Sunshine” and concluding with an extended
version of Gillespie’s “Timet,” which had been previously recorded for his 1970
album, Portrait of Jenny. “Timet”
features some dynamic Roker drumming. Longo’s “The Truth” is an exciting
excursion into the blues. Gillespie’s muted trumpet casts a spell on his
treatment of the theme from Black
Orpheus, and they follow with his own “Con Alma.”
Volume 2 opens with the classic “A Night in Tunisia” and
includes Gillespie’s bebop tour de force, “Groovin’ High.” The funky “Matrix”
is a 10 minute blast, while “Beyond a Moonbeam” adds a Brazilian touch. There’s an improvised Gillespie vocal on “The
Blues,” and “Brother K” and “Manteca” close the album.
After opening Volume 3 with “The Crossing,” Gillespie
introduces “Ole’ For the Gypsies” with a story about being kidnapped by a band
of French Gypsies. Gafa adds some compelling guitar work, and Gillespie
maintains the Gypsy vibe with a muted solo. He sings on “Something in Your
Smile” and does some scatting on “Oop-Pop-A-Da.” The bossa nova “No More
Blues,” “Olinga” and “Birks Works” complete the disc.
A swiftly paced “I Told You So,” opens Volume 4, leading to
a 19-minute “Kush” highlighting the work of bassist Earl May. There is a solo
trumpet opening, some Swahili chanting and a bit of call and response before
May gets the ball at about the 15-minute mark. Gillespie sings a somewhat
irreverent version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” to begin the song, adding an
aside or two, but when he picks up the horn, he’s all business, giving nods in
his solo to “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Tenderly.” “Alligator” gets another
of those playful Gillespie intros, and “Mike’s Samba” leads to a short blasting
“Bye” and an introduction of the band members.