10.21.2010

My Dizzy Gillespie Encounter

Just saw from today's Google Doodle that it would have been Dizzy Gillespie's 93rd birthday. When I was 16 my parents took my brother and I to Chicago for vacation. It was my first time there. I fell in love with the buildings, the sounds, the people, the architecture, the food and the music. My parents being the trusting sort and it being the 70s, let me go out alone on side trips. Trips that no one else in my family wanted to do, like museums, book stores and the loop architectural tour. Really, what 16 yr old wouldn't want to do that!? One afternoon, I passed a downtown hotel that had a window sign announcing, "Dizzy Gillespie Playing Nightly" in their top floor supper club.

I had loved Dizzy for as long as I could remember. Even during the unfortunate incident that was Fifth-grade band. I chose the cornet as my instrument solely because of Dizzy. Sure my life-long agoraphobia prevented me from going to the top of the Sears Tower with my family, but at that moment, I was Matt Murdock: Man Without Fear. I knew what I had to do. I walked in. Found the right elevator. Quickly located and pushed the button next to the club's name. Finally remembered to breathe. On my way up I took in the brass and crystal that appointed the car. It was the most elegant elevator I had ever been in. When the doors parted I remember yellow wallpaper, red carpeting, a hub of activity, men in suits smoking and giving orders to others and then a big hand on my shoulder. The man turned me around, wagged his finger and clucked a "Tsk, tsk, tsk." at me. He called the elevator back and aimed me into it.

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago...I was processing a medley of emotions; anger, sadness, disappointment and good old fashioned Midwestern Baptist shame. I barely noticed the man who called out for them to hold the elevator. About half-way down the man rasped, "Not what you expected son?" I mumbled something about not knowing what I expected, I just wanted to see a real nightclub and maybe see Dizzy Gillespie. Silence and the Longest.Elevator.Ride.Ever! When the doors finally opened the man said, "Well, you got half your wish." My brain was still muddled and what he said made no sense. Finally I turned around to look at him, and there... there was the Man himself. Dizzy Freaking Gillespie! His face, filled with a broad, mischievous smile. He bowed a bit at the waist and tipped his fingers to his brow in a sort of salute/goodbye gesture. I backed out into the lobby, tripping into some tourists. He reached over, pushed the 'door close' button, still smiling at me with his eyes. "Stay out of trouble and come back and see me in a few years." I did.

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