On February 9, 1953, Dizzy Gillespie played a live concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris that was recorded, though when excerpts were first released, there were only enough used to fill one 10" LP. This two-disc set not only includes the entire 84-minute show (which actually fills just over one disc) for the first time on CD, it also adds 16 studio tracks that Gillespie cut in Paris that same month, as well as eight Gillespie-less studio tracks (also done in Paris in February 1953) by three of his sidemen, working under the name the Wade Legge Trio. It's the live Salle Pleyel set that's the main feature, presented here, according to the liner notes, in an "unedited remastered version of that evening's events with a number of butchered solos fully restored plus the addition of [alto and baritone saxophonist] Bill Graham's previously discarded showcase "'I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance,'" for which Dizzy made a rare appearance on piano."
This might not have been Gillespie's best band, or Gillespie's very best period; those honors probably belong to the work he did in the mid- to late '40s. Still, Gillespie close to his best -- as he is here -- is very good indeed, as is the sound quality of this concert recording. The program mixes some of the more well-known tunes identified with Dizzy ("Ooh-Shoo-Be-Doo-Be," "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac") with some standards (including no less than four songs written or co-written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin). On one of those Gershwin tunes, "Embraceable You," there's also a surprise vocal by Sarah Vaughan -- not a member of Gillespie's band at the time, but a fellow jazz star "who just happened to be in the building," according to the liner notes.
The first ten of the 16 Gillespie-led studio tracks -- in which just one of the 16 songs from the live portion ("Mon Homme") is reprised -- are much in the same vein, though not quite as lively as the concert material. Too, the live setting, unlike the studio one, gave the band a chance to stretch out songs to nearly ten minutes, as they did on "The Champ," "Good Bait," and "Birk's Works." For those who like the fun-loving, vocal side of Gillespie's persona, though, this studio version of "Clappin' Rhythm" stands out as a highlight. The final six of the Gillespie-led studio recordings finds the sextet supplemented by the Paris Operatic String Orchestra (with arrangements by Michel Legrand), and are good as bop-meets-orchestration goes, though orchestral arrangements don't play to Gillespie's strengths. The eight final cuts on disc two represent pianist Wade Legge's sole session he did as a leader, with the rhythm section of bassist Lou Hackney and drummer Al Jones. Though not too similar in tone to the Gillespie-led numbers that dominate this compilation -- it's well-done if typical early-'50s bop, with the piano to the fore -- it does round out this extended snapshot of the music Gillespie and his band were creating in Paris during this month. As a whole, the two-CD set might not be a major entry in the Gillespie discography, but it's a good one. And it's certainly hard to imagine a more complete package of this 1953 Salle Pleyel concert, complemented as it is by studio material recorded by the same musicians at the same time and place, augmented by detailed liner notes.