Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dizzy Gillespie "The Quintet": Why It's Important

The Quintet
Jazz At Massey Hall

A landmark happening. An "it-will-never-happen-again" or "once-in-a-lifetime" moment. Five legends (and I mean LEGENDS) of jazz got together one evening in 1953, to record a tension-filled concert at Massey Hall. Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Bud Powell (piano), Charlie Parker (sax), Max Roach (drums) and Charles Mingus (bass) all in the same room. The album would be called, The Quintet Jazz At Massey Hall (Debut/OJC).

This was the first and last time these giants had gotten together. Yes, you and I should have been there. Fortunately and unfortunately as history tells it there weren't a lot of people at this show surprisingly. This was a firecracker of a show because some of the musicians didn't get along in the first place, but also Charlie "Bird" Parker arrived without his horn and had to borrow one.In addition to the fact the Bird and Diz where left to wait for a second flight to Toronto after the rest of the band had left due to over booking.

The performance itself is as you would expect, on fire. These were bop legends still with all their chops and ready to set the stage ablaze. Oh, and did I mention--there was no time for rehearsals? Ripping through "now classics" like Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and "A Night In Tunisia" and the wonderful Hammerstein-Kern "All The Things You Are", this was a set not to be missed. Thankfully Charles Mingus had recorded the date and it would later be released on vinyl (and of course CD).

There has been much said about this show and its real importance. Some question if it really was that great of a performance. Well that is up to the ear of the listener. But most of the people I know who have listened to this album believe as I do--it is one of the greatest concerts of all time.

While no video exists of this concert there is footage of some of the performers together in different setting. So take a look and then imagine them all together and you may get close to to that one night in May of 1953. For further study into this little slice of history there is great book called Quintet Of The Year by Geoffrey Haydon that does a full diagnoisis of this night. A great read.

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