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

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…