Dizzy Gillespie shakes up jazz world in ‘Last Call at the Downbeat’

Dizzy Gillespie in a be bop mood. Credit: William Gottlieb
Dizzy Gillespie in a bebop mood.
Credit: William Gottlieb

A young Dizzy Gillespie was about to shake the core of the jazz world when he came to Philadelphia for a nine-week stand at the Downbeat Club in 1941. The moment is captured in the new play by Suzanne Cloud called “Last Call at the Downbeat,” which debuts April 5 at the Red Room of Society Hill Playhouse.

The play is part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.

“In 1941, he was a young lion moving away from the big bands and into more improvisation — you couldn’t improvise in a band,” says Cloud, a jazz performer, educator and journalist. “He was a younger cat who was moving into a smaller group with the new ideas of rhythm and the changing role of the drums, the changing role of the bass and the new harmonies.”

Gillespie, who lived 1917-1993, was a North Carolina native whose family moved to Philadelphia in the 1930s. He played his trumpet in several late ’30s and early ’40s big bands, including Cab Calloway’s orchestra, before setting off on his own. Along with Charlie Parker, he led jazz away from the swing era and into the more challenging, and at the times radical, bebop of the ’40s and ’50s.

Beyond the music, Gillespie was a example of a new type of African American: bold, talented and forthright in an era when it was sometimes dangerous to be so.

“In Philadelphia, along with the great music, there was racism,” Cloud says.

Gillespie became an ambassador for not only the music, but for the State Department. He took a band on an official tour of the Middle East in the 1950, as he grew into an icon of 20th-century music and American culture.

In a sense, it started at the Downbeat in November 1941. The club was a landmark at 11th and Ludlow near the Earle Theater, where Gillespie was previously fired by bandleader Lucky Millender.

“Last Call at the Downbeat,” starring Erin Fleming as Gillespie, will feature the music of trumpeter Duane Eubanks and his band and the filmed recollections of 93-year-old drummer Charlie Rice, the lone surviving member of the Downbeat house band. Rice will also participate in a discussion following the Saturday shows.

“It’s the story of jazz in Philadelphia,” Cloud says.

If you go:

The Jazz Bridge production of ‘Last Call at the Downbeat’
April 5, 6, 12, 13
Red Room of the Society Hill Playhouse
507 S. Eighth St.
$25
610-745-3011
www.jazzbridge.org


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

PHOTOS: More than $12 million in heroin, crystal…

Authorities seized more than 44 pounds of heroin and 17 pounds of crystal meth from two stash houses this week during a Manhattan drug bust.

Local

How to donate during the blood drive at…

The Metro-North Railroad and New York Blood Center are hosting a blood drive at Grand Central Terminal Thursday.

Local

Bloomberg launches $50 million anti-gun violence effort

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million on a grassroots anti-gun violence network to challenge the National Rifle Association.

Local

East Village woman fights off rape attempt from…

An East Village woman fought off an attempted rapist that she woke to find standing on her bed over the weekend, police said.

The Word

Wahlburgers announce North America domination

Tuesday was a huge day for Donnie Wahlberg.

Books

Becoming friends with New York City's oldest known…

"The Life and Times of Richard Musto" tells the story, through a poem, of the oldest known homeless man in New York City.

Movies

Interview: Johnny Depp says he looks like himself,…

Johnny Depp talks about his new sci-fi thriller "Transcendence," not wearing gaudy makeup and wigs for a change and how he's a bit of a Luddite.

Movies

Review: 'Heaven is for Real' tries to be…

The mega-bestseller "Heaven is for Real" becomes a movie that tries to portray wrestling with faith — or at least it tries to try.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's are baseball's best, Brewers…

MLB Power Rankings: A's are baseball's best, Brewers and Braves right behind

NFL

Jets make Chris Johnson signing official

The Jets got their big-play threat as running back Chris Johnson signed a multi-year contract with the team on Wednesday.

NHL

Top 5 Philadelphia storylines for Flyers-Rangers

The slate is clean for the Flyers and the Rangers. Which is good news for the Flyers.

NHL

Islanders back to rebuilding mode after disappointing season

One season after qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, the Islanders finished 2013-14 with a 34-37-11 record.

Tech

5 surprising facts about Google Glass

Your sex life could get more interesting.

Wellbeing

Cognitive skills begin to drop at age 24

But the news isn't all that bad.

Career

How to get a job at a startup:…

We talked to Tarek Pertew, one of the co-founders behind Uncubed, about how to get your dream job at a startup.

Parenting

The 'smartest' summer camps across the country

See a list of summer camps across the country that emphasis learning, while still being fun.