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Bebop jazz and musical colors
on May 6, 2009
I have read this book and studied the illustrations several times now and still have not made up my mind about "Dizzy." Why so difficult? You see, that's the problem--I don't know. Let me walk you through the story.
I love the colors: pinks, chocolates, purples, grays, blacks, pale turquoise, and burgundy. The end pages are chocolate--symbolic of the color of Dizzy Gillespie's skin, then following the new trend in children's books--beginning the illustrations before even reaching the title page. There are two angels blowing their trumpets, announcing the delivery of a new baby--little John Birks Gillespie to a man in overalls and a woman in an orange dress walking down a country road in South Carolina.
"This is the story of one real COOL cat...born very poor and very tough." Displayed against rose pink walls are three boys, one downcast and two ugly-faced. The other boys beat up John Birks, until "one day he just couldn't take it anymore...and he whooped the living tar out of some big bully." Now John is ugly-faced, too. Those rose pink walls are smeary gray and rusty pink.
"He was always mad./ You see, his dad/ was always beating on HIM...." And a big-fisted, ugly-faced man stands over a puzzled little boy. The colors are grays and browns with one wine-colored rug because---the next two pages show a boy with a trumpet given to him by his music teacher. He blasts his anger through that horn and the sound is clotted-blood-red, pink, smeary white.
He plays and plays until the pages turn pale pink and show birds and butterflies (though they are gray). Even his shadow is gray, but the music, ah, the music has turned a smooth wine red. What he learns to play is JAZZ. "Jazz was like getting in trouble--it was FUN!"
Very pale yellows and somber ochres appear in the illustrations when he takes a train to Philly and gets a job in a jazz band. But the boy, now a man, uses shenanigans on stage for attention. "He'd fall off his chair...flail around willy-nilly" against a pale turquoise background. Finally, the musicians start to call him "Dizzy" because of his behavior.
In New York Dizzy finds himself, "soaking it in, the rumble and the roar/of the A train and the brass and the saxes and the drums/ of the jazz clubs." Lavenders, purply-reds, lilacs, grays find their way in the illustrations. He starts puffing out his cheeks for attention. During breaks, up on the roof, he starts to teach other "hepcats...how to play 'dizzy.'" The grays and pinks and lilacs become sophisticated, as does the color of his music.
By the time his name is on the billboards his music is so smooth out of his trumpet like the color of fine aged red wine, but this music is BEBOP, "going ziddly dee-boo-dah-boo/ hiddly on his horn...."
The last image of Dizzy shows him playing his Bebop in Jazz Heaven with the angel Gabriel against pale yellows and ochres. Dizzy wears an angel's crown with a white circular halo. An Author's Note concludes the book by providing biographical and musical notes about the man called Dizzy Gillespie, followed by two chocolate pages. The back cover displays one word--Bebop designed against all the loveliest colors of the book.
This book is an introduction to one of the great jazz musicians. Despite my aversion toward the "ugly" faces, they did have a role in creating the Dizzy we know and love. I'm thinking I like this book very much. But the proof is in the pudding. Will children like it? I'm also thinking I will pair the book with a recording by Dizzy Gillespie--maybe "Night in Tunisia" in a two-for-one lesson. Dizzy and Bebop--an introduction to great jazz music. Yep, I'm thinking this is a very good book.