Other Places: On Dizzy And Cheraw

You never know where jazz stories will materialize. This week, one about Dizzy Gillespie’s hometown showed up in the travel pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The article by Jay Clarke of the Universal Press syndicate makes it clear that Cheraw, South Carolina, has not forgotten about its famous son; far from it. Two excerpts from Clarke’s story:

Dizzy Gillespie’s home no longer exists, but the site has been converted into a small park, decorated with unusual stainless-steel sculptures. One is a fence cut into the shape of a musical staff, with musical notes to Gillespie’s signature work, “Salt Peanuts.” A couple of others take the outline of Gillespie’s trademark bent trumpet.

Dizzy Statue 2.jpg

Downtown, a bronze statue of Gillespie, with his puffed-out cheeks and bent horn, stands in the Town Green, close to Centennial Park, where most concerts of the annual jazz festival are held. This year’s fete will be Oct. 16-18.

The piece is not exclusively about Gillespie. It also covers Cheraw’s Revolutionary War and Civil War history (General Sherman slept there) and its importance in the heyday of cotton. To read the whole thing, go here. There’s more detail about Gillespie and the town on Cheraw’s web site.
For an excellent biography of Gillespie, read Alyn Shipton’s 1999 Groovin’ High. Shipton discloses that in the late 1950s on one of Dizzy’s many visits to Cheraw, he learned that his great-great-grandfather was a West African chief and it was likely that his great-grandfather was the white slave holder who owned Gillespie’s grandmother. Gillespie’s comment on that information: “That’s all over the South, you know.” The focus of Shipton’s book, however, is less on family history than on Gillespie’s music, with detailed accounts of its content and development.
For a Rifftides remembrance of Gillespie and a video clip of him playing “Tin-Tin Deo,” click here.

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  1. Gary Alexander says

    Another jazz musician coming out of Cheraw, South Carolina is Frank Motley. They call him “dual trumpets” since he can play two horns at once, like Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
    At the local dump, I just found a seemingly rare recording (on an obscure label) of Frank Motley playing Salt Peanuts with Charlie Parker. Apparently, he made the leap between R&B and bebop in the early 1950s. Anybody else heard of this “other Cheraw native”?

  2. Sam Stephenson says

    Cheraw is about 20 miles from Hamlet, N.C. where Coltrane was born. It’s only about 40 miles from Fairmont, N.C. where the great New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell was from. Woody Shaw was from the vicinity, too, and I think his father grew up with Dizzy (or maybe I dreamed that).
    Something was in the water.

  3. Andrew Dowd says

    I am a collector of jazz biographies and have read many over the years. One, however, has always eluded me because it was long out of print and very rare- but not any more! Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiography titled “To Be Or Not To Bop” originally published in 1979 by Doubleday was out of print for a very long time. A few months ago at Powells Books in Portland, OR I saw a mint copy of the original hardcover for sale for $50- but I could not afford it. The good news is that it has just been reprinted in trade paperback by The University of Minnesota Press- the list price is only $19.95- which is very reasonable for a book that is nearly 500 pages long. I just picked one up today and have begun to read it…

  4. Doug Hines says

    I have an Original, AUTOGRAPHED copy of ‘To Be or Not to Bop’. It is up for auction with bids starting at $300.oo. You will not find an authentic autographed copy of this book anywhere in the United States except here.