A new album inspired by the music of Dizzy Gillespie featuring Dave Adewumi, Matthew Stevens, Fabian Almazan, Carmen Rothwell, and Joey Baron.

Released May 1, 2020.

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Sheet music is available for here.

Musicians honor their heroes in a variety of ways. Some might fill an album with a beloved artist’s tunes, while others compose elegies, giving us an “I Remember Clifford” or a “Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat.” Too often, though, there is the assumption that tribute must be framed in the form of imitation, as if an artist can’t truly be honoured unless you approximate their most famous licks.

Dave Douglas disagrees. Rather than come on like a musical Rich Little, his tribute projects — from the Wayne Shorter-inspired Stargazer and the Mary Lou Williams homage Soul on Soul to the way his two albums with the group Riverside evoked the music of Jimmy Giuffre and Carla Bley — have tried to grasp the totality of an artist’s legacy. He’s less interested in reprising famous tunes than in exploring the harmonic and rhythmic ideas behind them, as well as the evoking the personality that animated those original recordings.

Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity does all those things and more, offering a perspective on the bebop great that is ear-opening and expansive. But it wasn’t an easy project for Douglas. “I sort of avoided dealing with Dizzy for a lot of years, because I felt like the topic is so huge, I almost didn’t know where to start,” he says. “First, there’s dealing with the incredible trumpet playing. Second, there’s the inclusiveness of his work. Then there’s the personality — his spirituality but also his humor, everything. Having done a lot of things now, I finally felt like I could go there, and talk about this.”

Dizzy Atmosphere started out as a concert program, assembled for a performance presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center in February, 2018. For that, he assembled a sextet that included Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and Joey Baron on drums. “I didn’t really have a plan to record it at that point,” recalls Douglas. “I just wanted to create it.”

But after having lived with the music for a while, Douglas began to conceive of a recorded version of the program, although with a different set of players. Some of that had to do with the availability of the original musicians — “Everybody’s schedules are so crazy,” he says — but it also had to do with his own conception of the project.

Just as he had Akinmusire at Lincoln Center, for the recording Douglas wanted a younger voice on trumpet. “That was something that Dizzy always did in his own work,” he says, “promoting a generation of players coming up after him.” Taking the Lee Morgan role on the album is Dave Adewumi, who Douglas first heard in a composition workshop at Julliard’s Jazz Masters program. “There’s not a moment on this record where I feel like, A) we’re in competition, or B) that it sounds like two very different trumpet players fighting it out,” Douglas says. “It feels like we’re on the same page building this thing. And I think that’s unusual for two trumpets playing together.”

In place of Frisell, Douglas brought in Matthew Stevens, perhaps best known for his extensive work with Esperanza Spalding. “Obviously when you bring in a new person, the dynamic changes,” Douglas explains. “I did, in the writing, visualize the roles that the guitar and piano would play, and I asked Matt to do a lot of very transparent, octave-y, floating-type of playing,” Douglas cites “Mondrian,” where the head is spiked by shimmery, chiming chords from Stevens, and “See Me Now,” where a ghostly guitar line rises in counterpoint against the piano, as examples. “He’s floating up there while we’re all digging around down in the dirt.”

“Con Almazan,” though it alludes to the Gillespie tune “Con Alma,” is also an acknowledgement of how much pianist Fabian Almazan contributes to the album. “When I wrote the tune, I was thinking about ‘Con Alma’ for sure,” says Douglas. Some of that influence comes through in the way the tune moves between time feels, but the most obvious allusion comes when Almazan starts playing a descending, chromatic harmony line behind Douglas’ trumpet, a passage that neatly connects past and present in the music. “It was when we started playing the tune with Fabian that I realized what the title needed to be,” Douglas confirms.

Douglas invokes Gillespie’s works throughout the album. “Cadillac,” for example, echoes the structure of “Sing Low, Sweet Cadillac,” with an opening built around a simple ostinato and a finish that quotes from the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” But it’s hardly a cover. “I wasn’t about to sing,” laughs Douglas. Instead, he composed interlocking lines for his and Adewumi’s trumpets. “But within those passages, we’re also improvising,” he adds. “And the instruction is, we’re building this up together. It’s call-and-response, kind of like Dizzy and [James] Moody, except they’re singing it.”

“Mondrian” is a double tribute. Although there’s a quote from Gillespie’s classic composition “Bebop” in the head, it was also inspired by “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” the final work by the great Dutch abstract artist and jazz fan, Piet Mondrian. Sometimes described as a visual representation of syncopation, Douglas feels the 1942 painting not only captures “the emotion and excitement of New York from that time,” but parallels the way bebop propelled jazz from linear, single-note lines to the chromatic harmony used today.

In addition to works by Douglas, Dizzy Atmosphere also includes a few of Gillespie’s tunes, and in so doing allows the sextet to pay tribute to Gillespie’s big band canon. “Pickin’ the Cabbage,” which Dizzy wrote while playing with the Cab Calloway Orchestra (“Hence the title,” says Douglas), isn’t often covered, and Douglas worried about including it on the album, “because it’s so different from the others. But we started to really get into it. Everybody got a vibe, and it felt good to play all those inner parts and shout choruses.”

There’s even more of a vibe to his version of Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban classic, “Manteca,” and that comes in part because Douglas’ vision for the music puts the rhythmic elements on the same level as the melody. “I said, OK, here are the constituent parts that make up how the band played this,” he says. “Everybody find your own thing within that.” Drummer Joey Baron and bassist Carmen Rothwell particularly shine here, with Baron offering a performance that’s as tuneful as it is rhythmic. “Joey is really a master of that,” Douglas says. “And when you hear the interaction between Carmen and Joey, it’s really magical.” Carmen Rothwell is a great young bassist who Dave met in Cuong Vu’s program at University of Washington a few years back. Her increasing presence in New York is felt strongly on this recording.

In the end, Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity is as much an exploration as it is an evocation. As Douglas sees it, the music comes from “taking a deep dive into his work, and thinking about why is this so important to me, and how can I reflect that in a way that has something to do with where we are now in 2020.

“I hope that people hear it, and get curious to hear more of his music.”

Track Details

1. Mondrian (5:33)
2. Con Almazan (8:13)
3. Cadillac (6:07)
4. See Me Now (4:34)
5. Manteca (7:42)
6. Pickin’ The Cabbage (4:45)
7. Pacific (9:28)
8. Subterfuge (6:23)
9. We Pray (5:24)


Dave Douglas, Dave Adewumi, trumpets
Matt Stevens, guitar
Fabian Almazan, piano
Carmen Rothwell, bass
Joey Baron, drums

Production Credits

Producer: Dave Douglas
Recorded at The Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, NY on September 2, 2019.
Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid
Design by Lukas Frei
Photography by Anna Yatskevich

Compositions by Dave Douglas (Dave Douglas Music / BMI), except
“Manteca” composed by John “Dizzy” Gillespie, Gil Fuller, and Chano Pozo (Music Sale Corp. / ASCAP)
“Pickin’ The Cabbage” composed by John “Dizzy” Gillespie (Universal Music Corp. / ASCAP

Press Inquiries

Matt Merewitz
Fully Altered Media

Press Quotes

“Dizzy Atmosphere and its cross-connected comrades managed to acknowledge and salute Gillespie’s pioneering efforts without ever mimicking his motions or taking on his mantle. You couldn’t ask for a truer tribute to this giant.” – JazzTimes