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Dizzy and Chet, a Jazz Odd Couple


The work of two seminal jazz trumpeters, Dizzie Gillespie and Chet Baker, is being celebrated this week with the release of a pair of CD collections by the label Shout! Factory. Musician and DAY TO DAY contributor David Was has this review.

DAVID WAS reporting:

The Dizzie and Chet reissues are the work of the same geniuses who started the highly successful musical recycling label Rhino Records. Rhino began in the early '70s when Richard Foos and his brother Garson began selling used records out of the trunk of their car. In 1998, they sold Rhino to Warner Music for a reported $60 million. Their new label, Shout! Factory, marks their return to the re-release fray.

(Soundbite of unidentified music)

WAS: Lushly packaged and expertly annotated, these recordings are a fine introduction to the Castor and Pollux of the brass world: Dizzie, the hot-blowing, antic spirit; and Chet, the brooding, Brando-handsome crooner with a dossier of dope use, burglary and near pop icon status.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. CHET BAKER: (Singing) Let's get lost, lost in each other's arms.

WAS: Dizzie has vestiges of legitimate musical education and could play the piano as well as the trumpet, while Chet was mostly self-taught and could but barely read music. Legend has it that Gillespie, one of the architects of the bebop revolution with Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, was already playing oddly dissonant solos when he was with Cab Calloway's band in 1939.

(Soundbite of Dizzie Gillespie music)

WAS: Supposedly, Calloway upbraided the budding avant-gardist by telling him to `quick playing that Chinese music in my band.'

(Soundbite of Dizzie Gillespie music)

WAS: I once asked Dizzie about that apocryphal quote, and he said that Cab Calloway wasn't hip enough to know what Chinese music sounded like.

(Soundbite of Dizzie Gillespie music)

WAS: If Chet Baker couldn't play with the fluidity and upper-register power of Gillespie, his sense of swing was sure enough to impress. The "King of Bop," Charlie Parker, hired the 22-year-old for a West Coast tour in 1952 after which Gerry Mulligan added him to his LA-based quartet. They were an instant sensation and launched Chet's fatal bout with fame and an attendant low life of drug addiction, which eventually cost the trumpeter his teeth in a dope-related street fight.

(Soundbite of Chet Baker music)

WAS: After a few stints in prison and a forced exile in Europe, Chet landed in Denver and went to see Dizzie, who was playing at a local nightspot. Dizzie by now was one of jazz's elder statesmen, whose trademark angled horn and bulging cheeks transformed his image from bebop rebel to beloved clown prince. Gillespie made a few strategic phone calls to club owners in New York, and Chet Baker was back on the map.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. BAKER: (Singing) With a song in my heart.

WAS: Today, Chet Baker has become a favorite of loungy, postmodern hipsters who find his kick-back vocal stylings both campy and cool. One of the two CDs in this collection is solely devoted to his singing.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. BAKER: The riding storms blow, but not me. My lucky stars blow, but not me. Would love to lead the way. I found more clouds of gray than any Russian play could give deep. I was a fool...

WAS: Even more freewheeling are the Dizzie discs, from his big band beginnings to the be-pop era and finally to his immersion in Cuban music in the postwar years. Take your pick or mix and match, a little ice and a little spice.

(Soundbite of Dizzie Gillespie music)

CHADWICK: From 1947, Dizzie Gillespie and his orchestra. Our reviewer from 2005, David Was.

(Soundbite of Dizzie Gillespie music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY continues from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Was