John Birks Dizzy Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, ushered in the era of Be-Bop in the American jazz tradition. He was born Cheraw, South Carolina, and was the youngest of nine children. He began playing piano at the age of four and received a music scholarship to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Most noted for his trademark swollen cheeks, Gillespie admitted to copying the style of trumpeter Roy Eldridge early in his career.
He replaced Eldridge in the 'Teddy Hill' Band after Eldridge's departure. He eventually began experimenting and creating his own style which would eventually come to the attention of Mario Bauza, the Godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz who was then a member of the Cap Calloway Orchestra, joining Calloway in 1939, Gillespie was fired after two years when he cut a portion of the Calloway's buttocks with a knife after Calloway accused him of throwing spitballs (the two men later became lifelong friends and often retold this story with great relish until both of their deaths).
Although noted for his on and off-stage clowning, Gillespie endured as one of the founding fathers of the Afro-Cuban &/or Latin Hazz tradition. Influenced by Bauza, known as Gillespies musical father, he was able to fuse Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to form a burgeoning CuBop sound. Always a musical ambassador, he toured Africa, the Middle East and Latin America under the sponsorship of the US State Department. Quite often he returned, not only with fresh musical ideas, but with musicians who would eventually go on the achieve world renown.