As I said in my review of this set's sister compilation of Chet Baker, the man with the horn is not merely the name of a jazz standard, it is the popular image of the music itself. Diz, the hot playing architect of bebop and jazz diplomat, cut a distinctive figure, appearing on stage a bit of a madcap with his crazy bent trumpet and bullfrog puffed cheeks. Dizzy's music is the epitome of ingenuity and virtuosity, chock with brilliant ideas racing to overtake each other. We are first introduced to Dizzy here as a member of the orchestras of Teddy Hill, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine. Gillespie is hardly the only star in these groups, particularly the legendary Eckstine group that included such legends in the making as Art Blakey, Gene Ammons, and Dexter Gordon. And the (mostly) Dizzy-led ensembles of varying size that make up the balance of the collection are similarly packed with a who's who of modern jazz masters ranging from John Lewis and Stan Getz to the young John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. Naturally included are several tracks recorded by Dizzy and the other pioneers of bebop--Charlie Parker, Kenny Clarke, Sonny Stitt, et alia. Thelonious Monk, somewhat surprisingly, only appears once, on a 1950 recording of Bird's "Bloomdido," but this brief shot of Monk is such a pure distillation of his music that no chaser is really required.
Gillespie either wrote or co-wrote a little more than half of the thirty-three songs interpreted here. Most of his signature compositions are collected, including "Birk's Works," "Woody 'N' You," "Manteca," and "A Night in Tunisia," as are the tunes he made his own, such as "Perdido." The Afro-Cuban side of Dizzy Gillespie's music is well documented, from the early "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" to a 1975 recording of Chico O'Farril's "Exuberante" with the composer conducting and a 1982 recording of "Wheatleigh Hall" with Arturo Sandoval.
It is really hard to quibble with the tracks that are on the set: they are all outstanding and include several truly classic recordings among their number. But there are some really glaring omissions, most notably the absence of any material from the famous mid sixties quintet that included the fine pianist Kenny Baron and the inimitable (and hilarious) saxophonist James Moody. That group is mentioned and even pictured in the accompanying book, ironically, but none of their material is presented...nothing at all, in fact, from the near decade between May, 1962 and April, 1971. Even the inclusion of one number from Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac or something similar would've gone a long way to balancing the collection. That said, it isn't like there's any dead wood here; there's no obvious candidates to cut from the compilation. The simple problem is that two discs just are not enough to cover the man's fifty year musical career adequately.
For sure, the Dizzy Gillespie collection Career: 1937-1992 is a joy to listen to for its entire two and half hour duration. There's a lot of music here, it's all good and mostly great. The collection is a fine value. Gillespie played in seven decades and recorded prolifically, almost always well. This set focuses mainly on Dizzy's absolute prime as a recording artist and songwriter, with twenty tracks coming from the decade between 1944 and 1953 where Gillespie, Parker and others refined the style of bebop, another nine from within a decade in either direction. Dizzy Gillespie's most fruitful period, then, is drawn in loving detail; the portraits of Diz's rise to greatness and of the birth of bebop are presented definitively. The downside is that the last thirty years of Gillespie's music is dealt with in the most cursory manner imaginable: only the last four songs have a recording date later than 1962, and some are live recordings of songs written years earlier. Still, when your only complaints about a record concern not what is actually on it but only what isn't, you're doing pretty well. This is a fine retrospective of Dizzy Gillespie that emphasizes his early days, but something less than a definitive overview of his long career.