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Night in Tunisia (1942)

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Origin and Chart Information
“I looked at the notes of the chords as I played the progression and noticed they formed a melody ... [with a] Latin, even oriental feeling.”

- Dizzy Gillespie

AKAA Night in Tunisia
Rank 40
Music Dizzy Gillespie
Frank Paparelli
Lyrics Jon Hendricks

Dizzy Gillespie wrote “Night in Tunisia” in 1942 while he, alongside Charlie Parker, was a member of the Earl Hines Band. Shortly thereafter, Gillespie, Parker, Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Eckstine left Hines to form what came to be known as the first “bebop big band” under the leadership of Eckstine. It was Sarah Vaughan who introduced “Interlude” as it was called before being renamed “Night in Tunisia.” With Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as sidemen, Vaughan made that first recording on December 31, 1944, for the Continental label.


More on Sarah Vaughan at JazzBiographies.com

More on Dizzy Gillespie at JazzBiographies.com

According to Dizzy Gillespie’s To Be or Not to Bop: Memoirs of Dizzy Gillespie, he was sitting at the piano playing chord progressions when he noticed the notes of the chords formed a melody with a Latin/oriental feel. Adding a bebop-style rhythm to the melody, Gillespie came up with “Night in Tunisia.” When played, this “mixture introduced a special kind of syncopation in the bass line,” a jazz pioneering step away from the traditional regular 4-beat bass. During the videotaped concert performance, “A Night in Tunisia,” Gillespie discusses how he composed this “anthem to bebop,” introducing Afro-Cuban rhythms to mainstream American jazz. He does concede, however, that “Manteca” was the “definitive breakaway from the old beat.”


More on Frank Paparelli at JazzBiographies.com

The publication credits list John Gillespie and Frank Paparelli on the instrumental version and add Jon Hendricks on the version with lyrics. Although Frank Paparelli is given credit for the composition in both cases, Gillespie claims that his contribution was transcribing the piece for publication.


More on Jon Hendricks at JazzBiographies.com

While Jon Hendricks had originally written lyrics for the tune in 1942, some forty years later he would revisit the song. Using both lyrics and vocals he was able to reproduce the sound and feel of the original instrumentation and this vocalese version of the song, retitled “Another Night in Tunisia,” won a Grammy award for “Best Vocal Arrangements for Voices.” Jon Hendricks would also write all of the lyrics to the 1985 Manhattan Transfer album Vocalese, which received 12 Grammy nominations.

Although the song is sometimes titled “A Night in Tunisia” the proper title is “Night in Tunisia.” The song appears as the title track of 30 CD’s and is included in over 500 currently available CD’s. And in January of 2004, The Recording Academy added the Dizzy Gillespie & His Sextet’s 1946 Victor recording of “Night in Tunisia” to its Grammy Hall of Fame.

The similarly titled “Tunisian Fantasy” was produced by Lalo Schifrin, pianist and arranger for the Dizzy Gillespie Band from 1960 to 1962.

- Jeremy Wilson

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