One of my favorite photos of Dizzy Gillespie is this one by Paul Slaughter. I love it because Dizzy has an expression not often seen in other images of the trumpet great. It's a before-the-gig look, and through his face you feel all of his creative energy and physical exhaustion. Paul picks up the story behind the image:
"I first met Dizzy Gillespie in 1970, at the home of Arthur and Joyce Dahl, in Pebble Beach, CA. The Dahls were great supporters of the arts. Arthur, especially, encouraged me in my budding career as a young photographer. I was in the Pebble Beach area to photograph the 13th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival. In the Festival program Dizzy was called “The Roving Ambassador,” and indeed he was. Dizzy would walk on stage unannounced, at any time, to jam with the other jazz musicians performing. [Pictured: Photographer Paul Slaughter and Gillespie in Los Angeles in 1985]
"The audience loved Dizzy. His remarkable ability to combine showmanship with superb trumpet playing is one terrific memory. Few jazz artists had such grace and ability. Over the years I was fortunate to photograph Dizzy at concerts, clubs and jazz festivals in the U.S. and Europe. I had an opportunity to hang out with him and his friends, such as Carmen McRae, Billy Eckstine, James Moody, and many other jazz stars. I also was able to see Dizzy in a range of moods.
"My familiarity with Diz and our comfort level together gave me entrée to photograph him backstage as well as onstage. When Dizzy saw an old friend, he'd make a high-pitched cooing sound that came out in one long breath as "ooooh." Sometimes I would call him at his home in New Jersey just to hear that coo.
"In March 1975 Dizzy was performing at Howard Rumsey's Concerts by the Sea in Redondo Beach, CA. Before the first set, Dizzy and I were backstage talking in his dressing room, which Howard referred to as the "band room." Dizzy was sitting on a sofa and holding his horn.
"Dizzy loved his cigars. Just as he was about to light one up, I asked him to hold the pose. He did. And voilá! I was able to capture the unique moment in time. I used a Nikon F2 camera with a wide-angle lens. My film was classic Tri-X 400 with no flash. Tri-X has been a favorite film of photojournalists since it was introduced in 35mm in 1954. The film works well in low light situations. Some still use it, but most photographers have, of course, gone digital.
"Despite how he looks in the image, Diz was in a great mood that night. The photo was used in his autobiography, To Be Or Not To Bop, but the publisher forgot to give me credit. Dizzy did autograph my copy of the book."
Photos by Paul Slaughter. ©Paul Slaughter/all rights reserved. Photos used here with the artist's permission.