Contributions of jazz artist brought to life in documentary

Andrew Schiller

Whether he was blowing trumpet with a face that was half-chipmunk, half-Pillsbury Doughboy or talking about his experiences in Cuba, Dizzy Gillespie was center stage in last night’s jazz documentary.

“I don’t know what happened to my face. I just went that way and that was that,” said the then 57-year-old Gillespie in the documentary.

“Looking at Jazz: America’s Art Form,” a seven-event jazz film discussion series sponsored by Libraries and Media Services, came to an end last night with “A Night in Havana: Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba.”

“I have absolutely no expertise in filmmaking whatsoever, but I love this film,” associate music professor Chas Baker said.

Baker said Gillespie is known for his trumpet, but does many other things in the documentary.

“He dances, he sings, he’s a statesman, a historian and a student at the same time,” he said. “You can see him drinking in everything he can get.”

The film started with Gillespie navigating the streets of Cuba in a striped shirt and a captain’s hat. In no time he was dancing in a packed room, trying to get others off their feet and dancing along with him.

Scenes of Gillespie meeting with Fidel Castro were also included, along with Gillespie’s thoughts on the encounter.

“He understood my contribution to the art of Cuban music, and he appreciated it.”

Gillespie was invited to Cuba to headline the Fifth International Jazz Festival in 1985 and died in 1993.

There was no discussion after the film, but Baker reminded the audience about tonight’s jazz concert.

Graduate student Tonoko Tanabe said she liked the documentary and had attended every event in the series but one.

“I like jazz, so I came here,” she said. “Cuban and jazz, I don’t know what you call it, but that’s my favorite kind of music.”

Contact libraries and information reporter Andrew Schiller at [email protected].