More than three decades have elapsed since the release of an album entitled "Dizzy Gillespie: World Statesman." At that time, Gillespie was leading an all-star orchestra in the Middle East on the first jazz tour ever sent overseas under official State Department auspices.
Of the many international events with which the trumpeter has since been involved, none has been more distinctly multicultural in character than his current domestic tour with a 15-piece orchestra he organized last month.
Billed as Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Superspace Band ("it was my idea," said Gillespie, "and it was my title, too"), the ensemble plays Sunday in Costa Mesa and Tuesday at the Greek Theater. Part of the band--mainly the percussion section--will appear with Gillespie on the "Tonight Show" Monday.
"We have a Puerto Rican, three Brazilians including Flora Purim and Artio, a West Indian--that's my pianist, Monty Alexander--and two Cubans," the 70-year-old grand sire of be-bop reported. One of the Cubans is Ignacio Berroa, the drummer with Gillespie's regular band; the other is Paquito D'Rivera, a saxophonist whom Gillespie first met after a jazz festival cruise to Havana in 1977.
"Paquito was playing in a Cuban band called Irakere," Gillespie recalled. "During our visit we sat in with a lot of Cuban musicians at a theater in Havana. I was very impressed with him." D'Rivera defected to the United States some years ago and since has established himself as a successful leader of his own group.
"I've been back to Cuba three times since that first visit," Gillespie added. "I've got a movie coming from there, you know. We took a film crew down a couple of years ago. Fidel Castro is in it. I just went by his office and we had an interview. He wouldn't speak English--he used an interpreter, but I'm sure he understood everything I said while I was saying it." The film is being shown at festivals overseas.
Mixing cultures and languages was no problem for the participants in the United Nations Orchestra. "All the guys speak good enough English," Gillespie said. "We're using some written music and some head arrangements."
Along with D'Rivera on saxophones and flutes, the horn section includes trumpeter John Faddis, the young, iron-chopped Gillespie protege who has been working on and off with Dizzy for several years; Claudio Roditi, the Brazilian trumpeter who works regularly with D'Rivera's group; Slide Hampton and Steve Turre on trombones; Sam Rivers, Gillespie's permanent tenor saxophonist, and James Moody, a Gillespie alumnus who returns often, also on tenor sax.
Adventurous musical colors are second nature to Gillespie; his compositions, all the way back to "Night in Tunisia" in 1942, frequently have had exotic flavor. Some of the familiar pieces that have been adapted to the present band are "Manteca," "Fiesta Mojo," "Tanga" and "Lorraine" (dedicated to his wife of 48 years).
When this tour is over, there well may be pressure on Gillespie to revert to a more commercially oriented format. An album he made a few months ago with a fusion band, "Endlessly" (Impulse 42153), is at No. 10 with a bullet on the Billboard jazz chart this week.
"Yes, it's a little different," Gillespie said, "and it's certainly one way to go. Meanwhile, we're having an awful lot of fun with the Superspace Band. Talk about music as the international language--man, this is it!"
Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Superspace Band plays Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $18.50. Information: (714) 634-1300.