Sentinel (Freehold, N.J.) - October 16, 2008

Alumnus carries torch of dad, Dizzy Gillespie

Jazz singer Jeanie Bryson to perform in Trenton


Jeanie Bryson, renowned vocalist and daughter of Dizzy Gillespie, performs with her quintet during Sunday's jazz cabaret brunch at East Brunswick High School.

EAST BRUNSWICK — Her father has been called the Mozart of jazz, and his influence is inescapable among modern jazz players.

But that isn't what Jeanie Bryson, daughter of the late Dizzy Gillespie, remembers most. Instead, she recalls her father as a very bright, quick-witted fellow who just happened to be as influential as perhaps any other 20th-century musician.

Bryson, who grew up in East Brunswick and returned to live there about 10 years ago, followed in her father's footsteps, at least musically, and is a renowned vocalist. On Sunday, she performed as part of East Brunswick High School's 50th anniversary gala, and on Friday night she will appear with a sextet at the Haberdashery in Trenton.

Bryson, who will front a sextet at the Trenton show, said she has been singing professionally for about 20 years, and she includes a mix of originals and covers in her shows.

Though the Golden Age of jazz passed decades ago, Bryson carries on the torch, incorporating standards into her sets as well as some numbers written by he father. But she also sings some tunes her father loved to do, though he did not write them

At the high school show, Bryson played along with a guitarist, bassist, drummer and saxophonist, and performed songs by everyone from Peggy Lee to George Gershwin. She even did "Love Potion #9" as a cha-cha.

She plans to perform what she calls the "Dizzy songbook" at the Trenton show.

"It will include songs he wrote and others he just liked to play," she said. "They will be songs that are right for me to sing."

She will also do the Thelonious Monk chestnut "Round Midnight."

"My dad said it was his favorite," she said.

Bryson grew up with her grandparents in East Brunswick and graduated from East Brunswick High School in 1975. Her connection with Yvonne De Carolis, whose father, Mario "Chic" De Carolis, taught in East Brunswick schools, led to her involvement with last weekend's anniversary celebration.

In fact, Bryson said she considers "Mr. D" her first real music teacher. He was certainly her first band director, she said.

Bryson studied with De Carolis while at Churchill Junior High School, where she played in the jazz stage band. Even though she wasn't yet in the high school, he brought her in to play piccolo with the school's marching band.

Bryson actually wound up graduating high school early, and began college by January 1975.

"I loved Mr. D," she said. "I was happy to do anything to further his great accomplishments," she said of appearing at the high school anniversary, where Sunday's cabaret brunch was dedicated in his memory. She said De Carolis had authenticity as a music teacher, because he also had live playing experience.

"He had great taste and picked out great arrangements," she said.

Bryson lived away from East Brunswick for 20 years before deciding to move back.

"I loved East Brunswick. I moved here from New York and thought of it as the country," she said. "There was a lot of green and space, and I had a backyard."

Her father was 75 when he died, and left behind an indelible mark on the jazz world. In the 1940s, he and a select few others, most notably alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and pianist Thelonious Monk, forged a dramatic new type of jazz known as bebop. Though jazz had flourished for years in various forms, bebop took it to a new height, with fast tempos, an emphasis on improvisation, and more complicated chords.

Bryson, who noted that her mother Connie Bryson was the biggest influence on her, said her father never talked to her about how he originated bebop, or what he was thinking when he did. It may have been an organic process that came from boredom, she said.

Gillespie, she said, had a multitude of outside, healthy interests.

"He was interested in a lot of things, like playing cards, chess, photography, and fine watches," she said.

He was also an ambassador of sorts, and was sent by the U.S. government to foreign countries as a good will ambassador, she said. In fact, the U.N. orchestra was his last band.

"He was very bright, quick, a genius," she said.

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