Saturday, April 5, 2008


Winter, Jonah. Dizzy. 2006. Ill. by Sean Qualls. New York: Scholastic.

Just in time for Jazz Appreciation Month, we received a new copy of a previously released picture book biography of jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie. It is a J biography, targeted at older readers. Dizzy simultaneously chronicles the life of Dizzy Gillespie and the birth of the new form of jazz that Dizzy helped to invent, bebop. I have mixed feelings about the book.

The prose is wonderful and evokes the transition of jazz music from swing to bebop, switching cadences and syntaxes throughout the story.

"He was always mad.
You see, his dad
was always beating on HIM
and there was nothing he could do

but try to be tough
and try not to cry."

and then later

"For the boy with the horn
fueled with a FIRE
that burned with every whooping,
JAZZ was like a fire extinguisher. It was c o o o o o o o o l.

For the boy with the horn, stuck
inside a Podunk town
in the Deep South, where white folks put you down,
JAZZ was also like a ticket
on a train to better days.

So he boarded that train and moved up north
to a place they call Philly.
Right off the bat,
he got a job in a jazz band
and started acting silly."

Winter tells Dizzy's story beginning with a difficult childhood filled with rage, progressing to his musical awakening through the trumpet and the early days of jazz, and ending with his accomplishments as the confident and ebullient creator and master of the bebop jazz sound.

I may be of a minority opinion here, but I think that the illustrations fall short of capturing the scope of Dizzy Gillespie's life. Qualls definitely captures the mood of Dizzy's early life, with its poverty and rage. His acrylic and pencil illustrations with their muted blues, reds, and purples, also accurately capture the hot/cool jazz scene. What I find missing is the exuberance and joy of Dizzy's fun-loving spirit. In fact, only one illustration in the entire book features Dizzy with even the hint of a smile. Winter's biography depicts a Dizzy Gillespie that was known as much for his clowning around as for his revolutionary style of jazz. Qualls' artwork misses that note.

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