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

“This wonderfully-conceived and executed album closes out with “We Pray,” from the pen of Douglas. It joins “Subterfuge” as the set’s ballad tunes—introspective and beautiful straight-ahead jazz.” – Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz ★★★★

“Douglas eschews basic cover arrangements and instead offers a mix of originals and reworked versions of Gillespie’s songs that use the iconic trumpeter’s music as a jumping off point.” – Matt Collar, All Music ★★★★

“Trumpeter Dave Douglas takes a deep dive into the work of bebop great Dizzy Gillespie on his brand new album. Dizzy Atmospheres features new versions of Gillespie compositions plus new Gillespie-inspired tunes and is rightly described as a work of exploration as well as evocation.” – Matt Micucci, JAZZIZ

“By taking elements of Gillespie’s compositions but mostly creating fresh works of his own, and centering the rapport with his five bandmates, Douglas has created a loving tribute with its own liftoff.” – Giovanni Russonello, New York Times

“Trumpeter Dave Douglas’s solution is to dive into Gillespie’s music and rummage around for its contemporary relevance. Classic themes are alluded to, and the album captures Gillespie’s mischievous sense of humour and serious intent. But for the most part, Douglas’s album reflects on his formative influence through a jazz left-field lens.” – Mike Hobart, Financial Times ★★★★

“Like everything Douglas puts his hand to, it’s immaculately executed and bears the distinct stamp of his meticulous arranging.” – Stuart Derdeyn, Vancouver Sun

“These recordings are a wonderful example of inspired jazz – atmosphere! – and makes you want to dig Gillespie himself out of the archives once again.” – Ruedi Ankli, Jazz ‘N’ More (translated from German)

“Cloaked in Douglas’ own envelope-pushing conception… Gillespie’s legacy isn’t completely dissolved in this matrix, though that fact ends up saying more about Douglas’ brilliance than the subject of his homage.” – Michael J. West, Downbeat ★★★★

“As much homage as exploration, Dizzy Atmosphere addresses and expands upon Gillespie’s pioneering efforts with an enthusiasm that never resorts to mere imitation.” – Troy Collins, Point of Departure

Dizzy Atmosphere gives Douglas opportunity to flex his trumpet chops. His clarion pealing and deft flurries are seamlessly abetted by Adewumi, supplementing the groove on the melodic glide of “Cadillac” and the semi-spiritual closer “We Pray.” A little Dizzy, but clear-headed Douglas through and through.” – Britt Robson, JazzTimes

“The album emerges as a rounded work, flowing smoothly from beginning to end, and revalidates Douglas’ position as one of the most active guys in jazz today, who also continues to create stimulating projects and reinvent himself successfully. … This new formation has the potential to be his next great regular band. And it promises top-notch music.” – Yahvé M. de la Cavada, El Pais (translated from Spanish)

“This is a fine tribute to one of the greats of jazz led by one of today’s major figures.” – Tony Dudley-Evans, London Jazz News

 “… this resplendent work absorbs Dizzy’s rich musical legacy to open up contemporary fresh paths.” – Filipe Freitas, Jazz Trail

 “The upshot is unmistakably a Douglas album, with his love of mixing surging rhythms, angular lines and sections that float by like white clouds across a summer sky.” – John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald ★★★½

“Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas practically defines the “new mainstream” in that he spans styles and categories even as he tends to consistently present a trumpet voice that operates in a clarion post-bop area. How marvelous, then, to hear him present a young trumpeter in David Adewumi as his equal in this tribute to the greatest of modern jazz horn players. Douglas balances the program by using veteran drummer Joey Baron along with younger players: Fabian Almazan on piano, guitarist Matt Stevens, and bassist Carmen Rothwell. They interpret the Afro-Cuban “Manteca” and the rare “Pickin’ the Cabbage”, using contrapuntal rhythm on the former and a jump band puck on the latter.” – Will Layman, PopMatters – Best 20 Jazz Albums of 2020

Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity brilliantly reinterprets and renews Gillespie’s music.” – Lee Rice Epstein, Free Jazz Blog ★★★★