GROOVIN' HIGH by Alyn Shipton


The Life of Dizzy Gillespie
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London Times jazz writer Shipton tenders a new look at the life of legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. There have been, as Shipton himself points out in his preface, several other biographies of the musician (born John Birks Gillespie), as well as an autobiography that Shipton says, “has often been hailed as a landmark in oral history.” So why yet another examination of the life and music of the Cheraw, South Carolina, native? After posing that same question, Shipton, who also presents jazz programs for the BBC and has written biographies of Fats Waller and Bud Powell, responds, “The answer is to some extent all these books took their cues from him as to the shape and pattern of his life—I began to realize that, without in any way detracting from Dizzy’s immense achievement, there was more to be discovered about the influences on him.” Shipton does indeed concentrate extensively on Gillespie’s early influences, sometimes at the expense of Gillespie’s personal life. For example, even though he promises to explore Gillespie’s long-standing extramarital affair with songwriter Connie Bryson, which resulted in an illegitimate daughter, Jeanie Bryson, Shipton doesn’t get into that until nearly 300 pages into the book. Given that Jeanie was Gillespie’s only offspring, despite a successful marriage of over 50 years to his wife-manager, Lorraine, more attention should be focused on their father-daughter relationship (Gillespie did provide financial support, although he never admitted publicly that she was his daughter). That Shipton would gloss over the rich terrain of Gillespie’s personal life to concentrate on his music is almost commendable in this era of sensationalized biographies. However, he should not have promised to explore these issues if he was not prepared to follow up on them. Torn between the morally upright educated music book and the more sensationalistic material of his subject’s life, Shipton ends up with an unbalanced portrait that fails to satisfy.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-509132-9
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999