Rifftides Reader Chuck Mitchell, a veteran of print journalism and television production, writes concerning Dizzy’s Bebop Reunion.
As it happens, I was a 24 year-old associate producer on Soundstage in 1976 when this program was shot at Chicago Public Television, having been hired away from my Down Beat job by the series creator, Ken Ehrlich, who went on to greater fame as the producer of the yearly Grammy broadcasts and other shows. Ken had decamped to Hollywood from Chicago after booking this show, however. I had about a month’s worth of TV experience at the time of taping.
The idea behind the Dizzy show belonged to Ben Sidran, who had developed the concept with Ken and Diz, booked several of the artists, and provided much of the musical glue behind the scenes. I don’t recall any (or at least very many) lead sheets, so rehearsals were a process of creating arrangements on the spot and reconstructing some pretty tricky tunes from the collective memory of the players. I have a particular recollection of the effort to work out the ending of ‘Round Midnight, a vocal spotlight for Sarah Vaughan. Almost everyone took turns at the piano trying to get it exactly right. As I recall, it was the Divine One who nailed it after all. But it was over 30 years and a thousand gigs ago, so things may have gotten a little fuzzy for me.
Most importantly, Dizzy had developed a nasty cyst on his upper lip, which caused him so much pain that he could only play on the first of the two taping nights, and with great difficulty. As you might expect, he was extremely upset and disturbed about not being able to acquit himself well on his own program, not to mention apprehensive about what this condition might mean for his future as a player. We took him to the Bah’ai Temple on Lake Michigan as a way of giving him some comfort, with the bonus of a beautiful setting for the interview intended to give the viewers some historical perspective and a brief insight into Dizzy’s own personality. Upon returning for the second night’s taping, Dizzy, ever the showman, played the role of host perfectly, and we were able to intercut the two nights so that unless you know what’s going on, you might not notice.
Fortunately, Diz got the problem taken care of and returned the following year to guest on a show we did based on the life and music of the irrepressible David Amram. He played splendidly.