The syncopated rhythms of bebop form the backbeat to this introduction to Dizzy Gillespie.
Winter sets his stage with a firm delineation of young Gillespie's character: A little boy who was the target of bullies and the victim of an abusive father found an outlet with the trumpet, and turned himself into a clown. The narrative focuses on Gillespie's own emotional and artistic journey,
celebrating his desire to take risks “until the very thing that had gotten him into trouble / so much /
being a clown, breaking all the rules / had become the thing that made him great, / . . . . ” The text breaks into ecstatic scat while the illustrations move from representational art to abstract depictions of the jagged sounds of jazz. Qualls's acrylic-and-collage images employ a muted palette of pinks and blues and beiges, and compositions vary from scenes of daily life to poster-like montages, effectively establishing Gillespie as larger than life. The narrative culminates in a priceless image of Dizzy
“shov[ing] the angel Gabriel out of the way / and show[ing] him how to play / Bebop.” “OOP BOP
SH'BAM!” (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)
There have been many books about jazz for young readers, a peculiar topic because, as a rule, it's not a form of music that children have an affinity for, if they are familiar with it at all. But, together, Winter and Qualls make it work. That's because Winter recognizes that if he can get readers interested in a character-in this case, trumpet revolutionary Dizzy Gillespie-they will want to learn more about his music. And Qualls is able to translate the story (and the music) into shapes and colors that undulate and stream across the pages with a beat and bounce of their own. The story of "one real cool cat" begins with a South Carolina childhood full of blue notes. Poor, abused, and angry, young John Birks Gillespie has his life turned around after a teacher gives him a trumpet. In a two-page spread, a river of red--his anger in living color--bursts out of Gillespie's new horn as he blows "REALLY LOUD." An explanation of jazz follows, and it is simple enough for the audience: "You took a melody and played it all different ways . . . changed every phrase-it was crazy." That is followed up with a bit more illumination dear to kids' hearts: "If a melody was like a rule, jazz was like breaking the rules, like inventing new rules. Jazz was like getting into trouble." Tracing Gillespie's ascent in the New York jazz world of the early 1940s, the story catches the excitement of the city, meshing it with the trumpeter's crazy personality (which earned him the nickname Dizzy); meanwhile, the artwork zigs and zags in color combinations that evoke the nightclub scene-greens, tans, a bit of peach, all counterpointed with muted grays. An author's note fills out Dizzy's story and lauds him for a personal life that was as composed as his music was wild. Turn up the stereo: kids will want to hear it for themselves. -Ilene Cooper
Young John (later Dizzy) Gillespie was a cutup and attention seeker who was fired from several bands because of his lack of seriousness. But his sense of play and hot-dog musicianship allowed him to become one of the innovators of be-bop as well as a great jazz trumpeter and singer. Winters (author of Frida, rev. 3/02) uses rhyme, repeated text, and unexpected line breaks to reflect Dizzy's musical style. Most of the time this works well, encouraging readers-aloud to perform the text with a jazzy rhythm and to emphasize the occasional large, bold-type word like one of Dizzy's sudden high blats. The text does include a few passages that slow the pace or use disappointingly predictable rhyme ("So he boarded a train and moved up north / to a place they call Philly. / Right off the bat, / he got a job in a jazz band / and