Oh, dear, I just dropped my favorite coffee cup, breaking it and spilling latte everywhere. Due to the exigencies of cleanup, and the frustration of losing my favorite latte mug, today’s version of Trumpet Wizards will be brief.
Up this morning is the great Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), pathbreaking bebopper, patron saint and mentor of many modern jazzmen, owner of the famous “angled trumpet,” and, of course, of those hugely distended cheeks.
Along with his early partner, Charlier Parker, Gillespie inaugurated a new era of jazz: bebop. And we can pinpoint precisely when it happened: with the release of this record, “Ko-Ko,” which was recorded on November 26, 1945. Nobody had heard anything like this before: neither the style of playing, which was very fast (I’m told Ko-Ko has 300 beats per minute) and dependent on tremendous virtuosity on the instrument as well as pervasive improvisation.
Ko-Ko is a riff on an older song, “Cherokee,” which was a popular jazz standard. It was Parker who revised it into what you’re about to hear. His playing dominates the song, but Dizzy keeps up. It’s impossible to underestimate how important this song was in the history of jazz. I have to admit that it’s not “beautiful” in the conventional sense, and not a song I’d listen to twice in a row, but it’s astounding and rewarding nonetheless.
While Diz plays second fiddle here, I did want to put this up since “saxophone week” will be a while coming; and other YouTube clips demonstrating Dizzy’s contribution to early bebop are few. (For a decent one, see the YouTube clip in which Gillespie plays Salt Peanuts, his solo begins at 1:45 there).
Ko-Ko (click on line that says ” watch on YouTube”):
Here’s Parker playing the song, Cherokee, from which Ko-Ko was derived. See if you can see the resemblance between this recording (1943) and Ko-Ko, recorded two years later. And note the difference, which is the difference between late swing and bebop.
Back to Diz. It’s hard to choose another song to show Gillespie’s versatility since YouTube videos are thin on the ground. One of my favorites is this one, Night in Tunisia, written by Gillespie in 1942. It’s been played by many, many jazzmen (my favorite version is Bud Powell’s piano piece from 1951; by all means get it if you can). Here’s Gillespie, older now, playing it:
And oh, about those cheeks. Everyone was astonished at how Dizzy’s cheeks stretched when he played. He looked like a chipmunk whose pouches are full of seeds, or a calling chorus frog:
What’s going on here? Combing the medical literature to explain this anomaly (the things I do for my readers!), I finally found this note, a discussion of a different paper on Satchmo’s Syndrome (“Satchmo” was another nickname for Louis Armstrong, supposedly a shortening of “Satchel Mouth”):
(Kaye, Bernard I.  Discussion of Rupture of the Orbicularis Oris in Trumpet Players (Satchmo’s Syndrome). Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 69: 692-693.)
Satchmo’s syndrome involves a rupture of the orbicularis orbis, the sphincter muscle around the mouth. This rupture happens in some trumpet players, damaging their embouchure and the ability to blow high notes. Here’s the muscle:
Dizzy did not have this. In a discussion of Planas’s paper, Kaye surmises that Gillespie Cheeks (note: this is not “Gillespie’s Syndrome”, as some people call it on the internet: that’s a different and more serious disease) is caused by a weakening of the buccinator muscles in the cheeks (note the playful writing, rare in medical literature):
Finally, the condition described in this paper is to be differentiated from weakness of buccinators shown by certain trumpet players, particularly Dizzie Gillespie. When the Diz blows, his cheeks puff out like a blowfish. One can justifiably postulate attenuation and stretching of the buccinator fibers so severe that only the physical tensile strength of his cheek contains the pressure he needs to vibrate his lips. In his case it is obvious that his rather odd blowing technique is more than adequate to produce his delightful music.
Here’s that muscle, in red:
I guess that wasn’t so brief . . .