Song of the Day: Dizzy Gillespie – “A Night In Tunisia”

Trumpeter John Birks Gillespie was born on this day (October 21) in Cheraw, South Carolina, in 1917. The world knows him as “Dizzy.”

Gillespie’s impact on jazz was monumental. Along with saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk and a handful of other forward-thinking musicians, the trumpeter with the stratospheric range and puffed-out cheeks to match was a prime architect of the bebop movement, which turned jazz on its head in the 1940s by accelerating song tempos, compounding harmonies and otherwise re-arranging conventions of the Swing Era. And, thanks to early partnerships with Cuban musicians like trumpeter Mario Bauzá and conguero Chano Pozo, Gillespie was also largely responsible for bringing elements of Afro-Cuban music into jazz. Oh, and then there was that time he ran for President of the United States…

Gillespie’s composition “A Night In Tunisia” is the perfect confluence of bebop and Afro-Cuban music. The origin of the song is the source of some humorous jazz apocrypha. This much is certain: The song, originally titled “Interlude,” was written while Gillespie was a member of Benny Carter’s band in 1941. Throughout his life, Gillespie maintained that the song was composed at the jazz club Kelly’s Tables in New York. Bandleader Art Blakey, meanwhile, claimed that Gillespie wrote the tune on the bottom of a garbage can lid while the band was on tour in Texas. Whatever the case, “A Night In Tunisia” is a certified jazz standard and one of the most iconic jazz tunes of all time. This version comes from a 1956 big band compilation from Verve Records called Birks Works. Enjoy!

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