A Friend's Account Remembering Dizzy Gillespie and Celia Cruz

Yesterday was the birthday for two great artists in jazz and salsa music: John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie and Celia Cruz.  Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie is one the great architects of the music we know of as bebop but he was also one of the architects of Latin jazz.  Vocalist Celia Cruz is known as the "Queen of Salsa" and along with Tito Puente helped to popularize the music in New York City and around the world.

A great friend of mine conductor Jesus Manuel Berard posted on my Facebook page his tribute to both of these great artists.  I asked him if I could share them on this blog because they show the humanity and breadth of how we experience music.  Here is his account:

"I still remember his [Dizzy's] memorial at St. John the Divine, and ALL the Jazz luminaries that were there. Wynton Marsalis had tears streaming down his face as he played. What a powerful event that was.  And yes, Celia! What a wonderful lady. She frequented my grandfather's restaurant in NYC, every time showing what a down-to-earth person she really was.

I was fortunate enough to have a center aisle seat at Diz' memorial service. Anyone that's ever been at St. John's knows how enormous it is (I believe it's considered the largest cathedral in the world, and is still unfinished), and I can assure you it was PACKED with throngs left waiting out all over Amsterdam Ave. All the famous people of course had reserve seats and I was just Forrest Gump lucky. So, I got a great view of everything. The service began with Wynton leading the traditional Dixieland funeral march down the aisle. By the time he passed me, he was blubbering so hard, I thought he would have to stop playing. Instead, what came out of his horn were absolute wails of grief. Never have I heard anyone play anything with such intense emotion and expression. It was unearthly, and genuine—and it set the tone for the rest of what was to be an amazing experience. You know I'm not a jazz player, but GOD did I get an education that day. 

With Celia, again it was a Gumpian thing. My grandfather had a well-known Cuban restaurant in the old country, and then afterward in NY. Celia lived not far away, in Fort Lee, NJ. I had no idea they knew each other LOL! My grandfather, being the humble, great man he was, never thought anything of it: just two human beings with a love for good food and talk about the old days!" 

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