One of Dizzy Gillespie's last appearances in...


January 11, 1993

IT WAS one of Dizzy Gillespie's last appearances in Baltimore, and true to Diz, the jazz trumpet genius who died Jan. 6, it was magical. The evening started, however, on a sour note.

On a Sunday about 10 years ago, Gillespie brought a small band to the auditorium of Baltimore's Dunbar High School. At showtime, a third of the hall was filled. The crowd, if you want to call it that, would get no bigger by the end of the night.

For a musician of his stature, it was a sad, embarrassing and insulting turn-out. Apparently, the promoters had done a poor job of publicizing the event. Also, another jazz star, a younger musician who at the time appealed more to the concert-going public, was in Baltimore the same night.

But a near-empty house for Dizzy Gillespie? A warm man with an effervescent personality, he still couldn't keep the disappointment from his face when he walked onstage at Dunbar and saw all those empty seats. As the band members took their positions, Gillespie looked down at the stage floor and shook his head a few times.

That was all he would show of his disappointment, though. Seconds later, the band swung into its first tune, and Dizzy was off and running. In his 60s then, he could still blow a lot of trumpet, and his sense of humor was as brash and and unfettered as ever. Of course, he did his trademark bit in which he would announce to the audience, "I'd like to introduce the band," at which point he would introduce the band members to one another with handshakes and bows all around.

Many other performers, including those with a fraction of Gillespie's talent and reputation, might have called off the show after seeing such a low turn-out. At best, they might have played a short set in a huff.

Dizzy Gillespie wasn't that kind of musician, or that kind of person. He was both master musician and master showman. He was clearly a performer who felt obligated to display his talents as best he could when people showed up to see and hear him -- even when they didn't fill the house.

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