Not Ready for Prime Time

When you’re young and green, chances are you have no clue what you’re going to pursue as a career. That was me in a nutshell, certainly as a teenager.

Whatever hopes my parents might have had that I would grow up to become a musician was permanently dashed the night I heard Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet solo on Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House,” from the legendary 1953 album, Jazz at Massey Hall, in Toronto.

What is today dubbed as “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever” may be a slightly over-hyped claim, but it was the last time that Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Gillespie ever performed together. Historically, there can be no denying it is one of the greatest recorded live shows in all of jazz.


I was unaware at the time that this quintet personified the bebop movement. All I knew is that what I was hearing was spontaneous, highly-spirited musical joy. Dizzy’s phenomenal take caught me by complete surprise.

As a cornetist who had studied the instrument for seven years, I was technically very proficient. But I only played what was actually written, I couldn’t improvise. I wasn’t even able to comprehend what Gillespie had delivered...such free, expressive creativity, his fleeting runs, the clean articulation even in the higher registers. Afterwards, I just sat there in amazement.

It was just a short time later that I went off to college, never picking up my horn again.

Had I not been exposed to jazz music, or listened that evening to Dizzy Gillespie, my guess is that I may have continued to dabble with my horn from time to time, all the while foolishly believing I was actually pretty damn good.  

I can only imagine New York in the 1940s, and what it must have been like for those brash, but nervous, up-and-comers during the after-hours cutting contests at Minton’s Playhouse. Consider those amateurs believing so strongly in themselves...thinking they had the speed, stamina and technique, and could play the most bewilderingly complex phrases necessary to battle with the great beboppers, the likes of Dizzy Gillespie.


ALBUM  Jazz at Massey Hall (Debut Records)

COMPOSITION  “Hot House” (the best part begins around the 3:30 mark)

PERSONNEL  Charlie Parker, alto saxophone; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Bud Powell, piano; Charles Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums