The trouble with paying tribute to jazz great Dizzy Gillespie is knowing where to start.
The trumpeter was at ground zero (along with alto saxophonist Charlie Parker) for the birth of bebop, was a proponent of Afro-Cuban (or Latin) jazz and was a big-band leader. He was also a mentor and model to untold numbers of musicians (think of Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, for example).
So what's the artistic director of a jazz series to do when planning a three-concert weekend dedicated to John Birks Gillespie?
Well, bassist Steve Kirby, artistic director of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series, put together a crack quintet of himself, trumpeter Marcus Printup, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, pianist Ed Simon and Afro-Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto for the season-opening shows on Sept. 22 and 23.
Then he asked each of the musicians to come to the pre-concert rehearsals with two tunes.
See, it's as simple as that.
"Everyone's going to bring a couple of arrangements," Kirby said in an interview. "There'll be some hard bop, bebop, Afro-Cuban, pop music attempts; there's a lot to bring," added Kirby, director of jazz studies in the University of Manitoba music faculty.
The musicians will be here for a couple of days before the concerts, holding master classes for music students, and for music fans who like to attend. That will give the quintet time to rehearse, Kirby said.
Asked if the rationale behind the band lineup was that Printup had put together a Gillespie show or if the musicians had been picked to illustrate different aspects of the jazz great's career, Kirby said a little of both.
"Marcus is particularly fond of Dizzy; he's dynamic with that music," Kirby said. "We put him with a firebrand drummer (Prieto, the Cuban-born, New York-based Afro-Cuban drummer)."
"Gary Smulyan has played in (Gillespie's United Nation) Orchestra and knows all the music," said Kirby, who added the saxophonist to the lineup after he taught at the U of M jazz camp in August.
Smulyan's performance at the jazz camp faculty concert was spectacular, showcasing his ability to play in a smaller group on an instrument more commonly associated with big bands.
A quintet means the musical focus will be on Gillespie's smaller group material, but Kirby added that "we'll try to synthesize some of the big band sound while we have the bari and trumpet."
Printup, a stalwart of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, has performed at least a couple of times in Winnipeg with that big band.
Prieto has performed here before as well, at the 2006 jazz festival as part of The Roberto Occhipinti Quintet. Jazz fans with longer memories may remember that the drummer played here in 1997 with then Winnipeg pianist Marilyn Lerner who has just released Birds are Returning, an album recorded in Cuba with Cuban musicians, including Prieto.
Venezuelan-born pianist Edward Simon rounds out the group.
The concert repertoire isn't settled yet, but you can almost hear the sounds of A Night in Tunisia or Manteca if you listen carefully.
The Afro-Cuban Mix, Celebrating Dizzy concerts are held in the Berney Theatre, part of the Asper Jewish Community Campus, 123 Doncaster St.
Performances are Sept. 22 at 8 p.m., and Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $38, and are available by calling 477-7534 or at www.radyjcc.com/ticketcentral.cfm