Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars musical director Slide Hampton.
John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (1917-93) was unforgettable. If you knew him, you have a story about him. And he was productive: He first worked in the trumpet sections of big bands, until he stepped forward and led the small-group revolution, creating fast, intricate new music known as bebop and pioneering Afro-Cuban jazz.
Along the way, Gillespie was a great entertainer: a comedian onstage and off, vivid to audiences around the world. In fact, as he traveled, he didn't even need a passport. He would just put his finger to his lips and blow out his cheeks, and the customs officials would say, "Welcome, Dizzy Gillespie!"
Most relevant to the music on Toast of the Nation, Gillespie led his own big bands — three of them. The first was in the 1940s, the second a decade later, and in the 1980s, he formed the United Nation Orchestra.
Alumni of Gillespie's orchestras and new players convene in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars Big Band, with longtime Gillespie sidemen — musical director Slide Hampton (trombone) and executive director John Lee (bass) — running the show on New Year's Eve at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The band dedicated the music to the late trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.