Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 84 - Touring Europe With Dizzy Gillespie
Early in 1948, Dizzy Gillespie took his big band to Europe for an historic series of concerts that introduced the new form of jazz called bebop to European audiences. The Gillespie band included such young artists as John Lewis and Kenny Clarke, who later became charter members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Other members of the band included three musicians who had grown up in Cleveland – Tadd Dameron, William "Shep" Shepherd and Benny Bailey.
Dameron, a graduate of Cleveland’s old Central High School on East 55th Street, had been working with Gillespie since 1943 and was becoming the leading arranger of big band versions of bebop. In 1946, Dameron told Gillespie about Shepherd, a young trombone player who was working at the time with the Johnny Powell Orchestra in Cleveland. Shepherd remembered first meeting Dizzy backstage at Public Auditorium. "He said, ‘Your name Shep?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Tadd was telling me about you. I want to hear you play.’" Shep took a streetcar to East 76th Street, got his trombone, rushed back downtown and played "Someone to Watch Over You" for Gillespie. The following night, Shep was a member of Gillespie’s band.
A year later, Dizzy was at the peak of his popularity and was planning to take his band to Europe. Shepherd, who had become the lead trombonist, suggested that Gillespie hire Cleveland trumpeter Benny Bailey. Bailey, who had gone to East Tech High School, and admitted, "I wanted to go to Europe," replaced Joe Wilder on Gillespie’s band.
They sailed for Europe aboard a Swedish steamship. Shepherd remembered running into a frightening storm in the North Sea. "I had never been on the ocean before," he said, "and that was an awful storm! The waves were like big mountains and valleys in West Virginia. One minute, I felt I was up on top of the mountain, and the next thing I knew, I was looking up at a mountain! Those big waves vibrated the whole ship! They had to lock the doors. They said, ‘If you go out, you’ll be blown off the deck!’" Shepherd said many members of Gillespie’s band got sick and lost weight during the voyage.
They finally arrived safely at Göteborg, Sweden where the young bopsters played concerts for 15 days. On February 2nd in Stockholm they played a concert that included Dameron’s composition "Our Delight."
One of the most enthusiastic fans in Sweden was Prince Bertil, the son of the Swedish king. Shepherd smiled when he said, "He bought us gifts. I still have a razor, a straight razor, he bought me. He gave some other guys meerschaum pipes." The prince was so enthusiastic that he accompanied the band on the train to Denmark, Belgium and Germany.
They played their new form of jazz for large crowds throughout Europe. Shepherd recalled, "They treated us like heroes," but remembered, "If we didn’t begin concerts on time, those people in Europe had a fit."
Eventually, in February of 1948, the Gillespie band got to Paris. For a wildly enthusiastic crowds, Shepherd, Bailey and the other band members played Dameron’s composition and arrangement of "Good Bait." Other songs they played at Salle Pleyel included Gillespie’s "Oop-Pap-Ada," Thelonious Monk’s "‘Round About Midnight," and George Gershwin’s "I Can’t Get Started." The performances in Paris prompted poet Boris Vian to write, "Bebop, the most recent evolution in the history of jazz, has conquered Paris, thanks to Dizzy Gillespie!"
And thanks to Clevelanders Tadd Dameron, Shep Shepherd and Benny Bailey. Gillespie, who became one of the most important artists in jazz history, died in 1993. Shepherd left the band a few months after the European trip and lived quietly for years in the Glenville section of Cleveland. Bailey moved permanently to Europe in the 1960s and became a leading trumpeter there for decades.
Copyright 2004 Joe Mosbrook
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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. The greatly-expanded second edition of Mosbrook’s Cleveland Jazz History book is available from the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, 4614 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44193.