In the summer of 1965, Dizzy Gillespie performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and then played a series of club gigs in the Northeast. In August, Gillespie appeared at the Showboat in Washington, D.C. During his engagement, a note was passed to him from a woman in the audience. The note asked if he would consider playing a morning concert at a local public school. The note included the woman's phone number. Never one to shy away from winning young fans, Dizzy agreed and brought his working band to the school. The woman who sent the note was Donna Wilcox, a volunteer and photographer. Here's Donna's story and the photographs she took that day:
"In the summer of 1965 I volunteered at the Bundy School in Washington D.C. [pictured]. The school held a summer program for 6th graders who needed to raise their reading levels before entering the 7th grade. While I was there, I took photographs of the students in classroom settings for a paper the principal was writing to gain funding for the reading program the following summer.
"Toward the end of the August we had a staff meeting to discuss ideas for a closing activity or treat for the students who had stayed with the program and had been successful. My husband John Wilcox was a radio personality at WMAL and had interviewed Dizzy Gillespie several times. The night before, my husband and I had been at the Showboat to hear Dizzy and his group. During the school meeting, I wondered aloud whether Dizzy could be persuaded to perform a short morning concert for the students while he was in town. The staff liked the idea, so I said I'd look into it.
"When my husband and I went to hear Dizzy at the Showboat again that night, I wrote him a note telling him about the school program and asked if he would play a morning concert. I included my phone number. Several nights went by, and I didn't hear from him. But on Sunday, a 4 a.m., my phone rang. When I answered, a gravelly voice said, 'I hope you're still awake.' Then Dizzy identified himself and asked where the school was located.
"I gave him the address for Bundy, and Dizzy said 'Ah, Chocolate Town.' Dizzy said his group would indeed perform at the school that Monday. He gave me the address where bassist Chris White and drummer Rudy Collins were staying so I could pick them up along with their instruments. Dizzy said that he, Kenny Barron and James Moody would find their way to the school and arrive at 10 a.m.
"When I awoke on Sunday, I scrambled to find a van. Then I arranged to have the school piano tuned that afternoon. On Monday morning, I picked up Chris and Rudy. Dizzy and the other musicians arrived right on time. The group set up and started playing at 10:30 a.m. and performed for a generous hour. They were a smash hit with the kids, who came on stage and danced with Dizzy while he played.
"After the concert, the students presented the musicians with a letter of thanks. Then Dizzy came off the stage, and the students gathered around to look close at the famous tilted horn. That's when I took the picture at the top of this page. I took if from the stage with a telephoto lens. I can't remember what kind of camera it was because I had rented it. At the time I had an old Nikon, but I didn't like the flash apparatus it came with. I had used the same camera to take pictures of the kids in the classrooms for the school brochure.
"Dizzy was a most generous, talented, funny man. I will never forget him, his kindness or his music." —Donna Wilcox
Photos by Donna Wilcox. © Donna Wilcox/all rights reserved. Photos used here with the artist's permission.