DIZZY GILLESPIE / “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac”
Some history. Some insight. First the history. Everything that exists has a beginning, a birth. In this case we’re doing a geneology on Latin jazz. John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie came north to New York City from down in Cheraw, South Carolina where he was born in 1917. A little earlier and a little further south, congolero Luciano “Chano” Pozo Gonzalez had been born in Cuba in 1915. Chano Pozo moved to New York in 1947 and Cuban musician Mario Bauza introduced Chano to Dizzy. Together they made history. Tragically, on December 2, 1948, Chano was killed in a barroom fight. But in less than two years, this team completely and forever changed jazz. The year was 1947. Dizzy Gillespie recorded “Manteca,” “Cubano Be” and “Cubano Bop.” “Manteca,” built on the solid bounce of Chano’s beat, became Chano and Gillespie’s signature composition. The short version of “Manteca” is from The Bebop Revolution, the historic 1947 recording on the RCA label. To give you an idea of how important Mr. Gillespie is to the development of modern American music, consider that in addition to being the co-founder of Latin jazz, he is also one of the founders of Bebop, in particular, the partner of alto saxopohonus supremus Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Plus, for many years Dizzy led the leading bebop big band. The man is a giant. The second jazz version of “Manteca” features the loving refrain “Never go back to Georgia.” This is from a July 6, 1957 recording titled Dizzy Gillespie at Newport (referring to the premiere Newport Jazz Festival). The track is also available on Dizzy Gillespie Jazz Masters 10 on the Verve label. The humor of the opening not withstanding, this is an expansive and masterful arrangement of “Manteca” that includes a superb trumpet solo by Dizzy. Particularly impressive is the dynamic control that ranges from flat-out screams to meticulously developed crescendos and rhythmic inflections. The third version of “Manteca” is the cover, a remix by The Funky Lowlives duo out of England taken from the Verve Remixed 2 album. This version offers both the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary remixes. As a dance track it is hot, hot, caliente in an appropriate manner for kicking up one’s heels all night. As a jazz track it is at best a negligible accomplishment, if not a downright heresy, because it negates the harmonic complexities and the brilliance of the improvisations, reducing the musical richness to a funky beat with hip variations. I like it for what it is. In addition to Dizzy’s version, sí. As a replacement for Dizzy’s versions, no. One reason I like the remix of “Manteca” is because some of what The Lowlives are doing is the same thing Dizzy was accused of doing during the post-World War II days. Even though Dizzy was an excellent musician, some people considered him more of a clown than a musician. I think humor was his weapon to fend off a hostile world, and his salve to sooth the wounds of the derision and put-downs often directed toward bebop, which some critics called “Chinese music.” Now for the insight. I present one of Dizzy’s most famous compositions: “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac,” along with its equally famous, humorous intro. This version of "Swing Low" is also available on the Verve Jazz Masters 10 Dizzy Gillespie release. Chano Pozo taught Afro-Cuban music to Dizzy. I knew that, but initially I thought Cuba was simply an influence and not an outright source. So imagine my surprise, imagine all the lights that popped off in my head, all the connections I made when I checked out some field recordings of Afro-Cuban religious music on the recording Afro-Cuba – A Musical Anthology. To illustrate my point, listen to “Enkame” and then listen to “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac.” And it only gets deeper, the more you study. For example, in discussing the African origins of the Afro-Cuban music, the liner notes state:
Via Chano Pozo, the conga player in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band and himself a member of Abakua, the society’s ritual language traveled from the fambas or sacred chambers of Havana’s lodges to the jazz clubs on Manhattan’s 52nd Street. During a long solo drum break on “Manteca,” recorded live at the Royal Roost night club in 1948, Pozo launches into a passage in Efik, answered by the band’s “Ua!” (Everybody shut up and listen!)In his time, I’m sure some of the members of the traditional religions thought that what Dizzy was doing was a desecration of serious religious music. And, in a similar way the debate continues today with some of us thinking that the rappers and DJs are desecrating our musical history by taking snatches and samples out of context to use as commercial dance music. To me, rather than wasting time putting down what I don’t like or don’t understand, it is more important to share knowledge, raising up what we feel is righteous. Enjoy. —Kalamu ya Salaam Dizzy sampled "Enkame!" The Funky Lowlives remix of "Manteca" ain't bad, but I'm at a loss as to why you'd prefer to feature it over "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac." I mean, this is the 'Covers' section; what better choice could there be than a classic jazz version of a traditional Negro spiritual? Anyway, when I first heard the "Enkame" track, the chants were instantly familiar. I knew I'd heard them somewhere before. I assumed they'd been sampled because that's what I always assume when I hear a record for the first time and I recognize parts of it. But I checked out the some of the sample-sourcing sites I use and I couldn't find anything. Then "Swing Low" came on and I realized what was up. Dizzy sampled "Enkame!" No, he didn't use a sampler; he used his mouth. But still, that's a sample. Dizzy took part of someone else's record and put it into his own mix, making something new. I'm with that. In closing, I'd like to say: Dizzy Gillespie - sí. Funky Lowlives - no. —Mtume ya Salaam When is a sample not a sample? In current parlance, "sample" refers to a mechanical reproduction of a previously existing recording. In that context, Dizzy did not sample "Enkame." Indeed, although the liner notes do not give a recording date for each track, 1948 is the earliest date listed, which would have been after Dizzy's 1947 recording. More likely than not, Dizzy learned the old fashion way: practitioner shares with someone who learns by observing/listening and imitating. Inevitably in such a process the person to whom the information is passed changes the information sometimes in neglible ways, sometimes in radical ways. In this case it was live and direct from Chano to Dizzy. As for featuring "Swing Low" as the cover, you are absolutely right. What we have here is a microcosm of the way in which African-American culture mutates its roots, especially its religious roots. In this case the reference is both Euro (Christian) and Afro (Afro-Cuban). Give thanks. As we dig deeper and uncover the origins of ourselves, of our culture, we find that much of what we thought was just jiving around is actually a very specific retention; oftentimes unconscious for sure, but nevertheless still a retention. Yo, Dizzy is the man when it comes to hooking up the African-heritage musical diaspora. In addition to Afro-Cuban music Dizzy was also among the forefront of incorporating Brazilian and Caribbean elements. Look for more Dizzy a little further down the line. Folks we've got a lot to learn about ourselves, step by step, note by note, rhythm by rhythm, we'll get there. Yesterday the root. Today the tree. Tomorrow the fruit. Forever and ever. Ashe. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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