Dizzy Gillespie was a pouch-cheeked trumpet great who helped foment the 1940s be-bop revolution. His mischievous stage antics belied a masterly grasp of the horn and a scholar's dedication to his music.
Gillespie was a high-profile ambassador-at-large for his music, a popularizer who appeared on talk shows and children's television programs to spread his gospel. He led several big bands on world tours under the aegis of the U.S. State Department.
He was instrumental in splicing Cuban and Latin strains into jazz, and from there, into mainstream popular music. His ensembles were steppingstones for such jazz stalwarts as John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt. As the swing era trailed off into its long night of decline after World War II, Gillespie found glory as the last great big-band leader, overseeing a tight-knit unit that played bop at furious tempos before flaming out after several incendiary years.
Even the trumpet he played was unique. Gillespie always carried a trumpet whose bell turned up at a 45-degree angle—an odd positioning that he favored after someone accidentally fell on his instrument in 1953, giving it that odd twist.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Gillespie appeared to settle into the role of elder statesman. He played trumpet on "Sesame Street" and chatted amiably with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."
In his final years, he still set off on world tours and jazz cruises and even appeared as a disgruntled jazz expatriate in "The Winter in Lisbon," a film for which he also wrote the soundtrack. He became a Kennedy Center honoree in 1990 and was the subject of a brace of documentary films and television specials.