Dizzy Gillespie

And His U.S. State Department Orchestra
BVHaast/Olfert Dapper OD 001

One of the few times American State Department funds were actually spent on something that benefited the world was in 1956-1957 when they bankrolled tours of Latin America, the Near and the Middle East by a newly organized Dizzy Gillespie big band.

Unfortunately despite enthusiastic acceptance and praise abroad, plus a well-received Newport Jazz Festival gig, politicians who obviously felt it was more important to spend taxpayers’ money on nuclear armaments and clandestine spying got the money rescinded and the band broke up.

Although the orchestra, which mixed veteran and hitherto-untried soloists such as trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Al Grey, pianist Wynton Kelly and altoist Ernie Henry, recorded several LPs, this disc adds to its canon with more than 75½ minutes of newly discovered, previously unreleased, material. Recorded at a live gig sometime in 1957, it features new versions of the big band tunes.

Buoyed by new arrangements by Melba Liston, Ernie Wilkins, Quincy Jones, A.K. Salim and Benny Golson, the last of whom also played with the band, the result show a group that was able to movie with the subtle swing of Count Basie’s contemporary band while at points exploding into the jivey, bluesy showcases Gillespie favored.

Often muted and able to effortlessly cut to the meat of any tune, the trumpeter is the main soloist, and is his usual ebullient and exciting self. But the CD also showcases the then-teenaged Morgan’s fire when he sounds more like Dizzy than the older trumpeter himself on “Night in Tunisia”.

Kelly, before his famous tenure with Miles Davis, and Grey, away from the Basie band for a time, buoy many of the selections with proper blues interpolations, while drummer Charlie Persip moves from bomb-dropping to Latin accents to effortless swing with aplomb.

Suitably mellow on his own “Whisper Not”, Golson proves an able foil to the other soloists. Meanwhile lead alto Jimmy Powell takes a couple of solos in a modified Benny Carter-Johnny Hodges style and baritone saxophonist Pee Wee Moore is alternately rhythmic, humorously or deliberately corny –Gillespie traits as well. Soloing on Horace Silver’s “Doodlin’”, the big sax man adds focus to a tune that likely not been arranged for a big band before that time.

However the most affecting soloist here is alto man Ernie Henry (1926-1957). His sharp, raw, double-tonguing and obbligatos on numbers like “Whisper Not” and “Dizzy’s Business” showcase his power and ideas. A missing link between Charlie Parker and Jackie McLean, he could have been a major force in Hard Bop.

Notwithstanding a rather drippy version of “Yesterdays”, a needless run through of a bit of Grieg and the jivey glee-club-like vocalizing on “Hey Pete, Let’s Eat Meat”, the music is first-rate and the sonic reproduction pretty good.

Fans of Gillespie, big Bop bands and Henry should seek this out. After all they don’t make sounds both unselfconscious and swinging like this any more.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Dizzy's Business 2. Announcement by Gillespie 3. Night in Tunisia 4. Anitra’s Dance 5. Begin the Beguine 6. Announcement by Gillespie 7. Yesterdays 8. Cool Breeze 9. I Remember Clifford 10. False start Groovin’ High 11. Groovin’ High 12. Whisper Not 13. Doodlin’ 14. Hey Pete, Let's Eat More Meat.

Personnel: Lee Morgan, Dizzy Gillespie and unknowns (trumpets); Al Grey and unknowns, possibly Melba Liston (trombones); Ernie Henry, Jimmy Powell (alto saxophones); Billy Mitchell, Benny Golson (tenor saxophones); Pee Wee Moore, baritone saxophone); Wynton Kelly (piano); Tom Bryant (bass); Charlie Persip (drums)