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Thousands Celebrate Dizzy Gillespie’s Life

January 12, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dizzy Gillespie, who made friends as easily as he made music, was celebrated by a few thousand of them Tuesday in a memorial service that mirrored his warmth, humor and expansive spirit.

An overflow crowd of 5,000 people filled the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for a musical sendoff to the trumpeter, composer and occasional clown, who died last Wednesday at the age of 75.

An all-star assemblage of Gillespie’s closest musical associates enveloped the huge gothic hall with the songs that are his legacy, including ″Con Alma,″ ″Tin Tin Deo″ and ″A Night in Tunisia.″

But more than paying tribute to his music, speakers at the interdenominational service - Gillespie was an adherent of the Baha’i faith - celebrated his humanity and wit.

″No musician was so deeply serious about his work, yet could be so funny,″ observed Mayor David Dinkins, who said he had heard Gillespie referred to as ″the 8th wonder of the world.″

George Shearing recalled running into Gillespie once on a passenger ship. Gillespie, he said, signaled Shearing’s wife that he was going to play a joke on the pianist, who is blind.

″He then placed his hand on a part of my anatomy normally reserved for the doctor and extremely close friends, and offered one word of instruction: cough.″

Another speaker, Thelonious Monk Jr., son of the late pianist and composer, read a message sent by President-elect Clinton, who called Gillespie ″one of the creative geniuses of the 20th century.″

The service began with a dirge-like jazz processional up the long center aisle of the cathedral. It was led by Wynton Marsalis, the most prominent of the young trumpet players now left with Gillespie’s legacy.

Among the honorary ″pallbearers″ were Slide Hampton, Milt Hinton, Chuck Mangione, Jimmy Heath, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Paquito D’Rivera, Benny Carter, Bob Cranshaw and Clark Terry. Private funeral services were held Saturday.

In reminiscences, several musicians credited Gillespie with nurturing their careers. Mangione said he was a 14-year-old trumpet student when he met Gillespie at a concert in Rochester, N.Y. Without hesitation, he said, Gillespie invited him to play. Soon, he said, Gillespie was a regular visitor - and diner - at the Mangione home.

″Dizzy had an appetite for food and for people, and I thank Dizzy Gillespie for making the whole world feel so good,″ Mangione said.

Milt Hinton, the bass player, offered one of the shortest and most heartfelt tributes to Gillespie, his friend for more than 50 years. He concluded with a wave of his arm and this goodby: ″Straight ahead, Dizzy.″

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