The original “Dizzy Gillespie at Newport” is an excellent CD, but its no match for the 50th anniversary re-issue. The 50th Anniversary edition of “Dizzy Gillespie at Newport” is another one of those CD re-issues that adds enough new material to make it a significant improvement over the original. The original version of “At Newport” did not include the songs that Gillespie’s band performed with Mary Lou Williams that day, those songs instead showed up on a split EP with Count Basie. The 50th Anniversary edition brings all the songs together and you can now hear the entire show, although the songs are not in the right order as they happened that day. Having said that, this review will deal only with the original CD, which is good enough in its own right.
“Dizzy at Newport” contains some of the hottest playing you will ever hear from Dizzy and his band, or anyone else for that matter. Unlike the swing based bands of Ellington, Basie and others, Dizzy’s band was the be-bop big band; their tempos were fast, their unison lines a blur of speed and their solos displayed a new formidable modern technique. The opening tune, “Dizzy’s Blues”, busts out of the gate with Dizzy leading the charge with an incredible fiery hot solo relentlessly pushing the beat forward. Wynton Kelly’s jagged piano backup adds to the beautiful chaos. Dizzy tended to gear his shows towards the general public, not just die hard jazz fans, so there is always an upbeat easy going crowd pleasing nature to his shows, along with a good dose of humor. Whether or not Gillespie’s humor gets to be too silly or over done sometimes is a matter of taste.
After the fierce opener, follow up tune, “School Days”, is provided as a sure crowd pleaser with Dizzy doing silly school boy raps over a jump blues/rock-n-roll beat. “Manteca” is intense Latin Jazz and “Cool Breeze” brings back the fast energy of the opener. In between those two you get a beautifully orchestrated version of “I Remember Clifford”. For a live big band recording in the late 50s, the sound quality on here is not too bad, but not remarkably good either.
As mentioned earlier, the salient features of these six tracks are pure energy and instrumental fire, few performers can take a tune to the next level the way Dizzy can with a solo. This original album is good enough, but if you can get the 50th anniversary re-issue, go for it. The extra cuts with Mary Lou Williams show a whole different side of the band as they tackle William’s ambitious 3rd stream “Zodiac Suite".