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Groovin' High (1944)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Groovin’ High” is a “bebop” head loosely based on the chord progression of “Whispering.”

- K. J. McElrath

Rank 186
Written by Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie took a sextet into the studio on February 9, 1945, and recorded two new compositions, “Groovin’ High,” a medium tempo tune based on the chord changes of “Whispering” (written in 1920), and “Blue ‘N’ Boogie.” In his book Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie, Donald L. Maggin says, “Dizzy created a complex arrangement for ‘Groovin’ High,’ which became one of his most enduring hits; it encompasses a six-bar introduction, three key changes, transition passages between solos, and a half-speed coda as it demonstrates his skill in fashioning interesting textures using only six instruments.”


More on Dizzy Gillespie at JazzBiographies.com

Gary Giddins in his book Visions of Jazz: The First Century claims, “Dizzy once said he might have gotten the idea for ‘Groovin’s High’ from a childhood matinee serial (starring Yakima Canutt, he thought) that had ‘Whispering’ as the theme song--a poetic and perhaps calculated juxtaposition of eras and cultures that agreeably disguises the scope of his sorcery.”

In his book Inside Jazz Leonard Feather says, “The last four trumpet measures of ‘Groovin’ High’ later provided Tadd Dameron with part of the theme for a beautiful ballad recorded by Sarah Vaughan, ‘If You Could See Me Now.’”

The following March of 1945 Dizzy recorded the tune again, this time fronting a quintet featuring Charlie Parker. According to Maggin, “The reworking of ‘Groovin’ High’ makes one important change in the complex arrangement. Dizzy curtailed his chorus to allow [guitarist Remo] Palmieri a short improvisation. Again, Dizzy and Bird managed a magical unison theme statement, and each performed intricate melodic improvisations over the unvarying swing rhythm.”

In December, 1945, Dizzy recorded the tune again at Billy Berg’s club in Los Angeles with Stan Levey, Ray Brown, Charlie Parker, and Al Haig (Milt Jackson was on the gig but laid out for this tune). “Freed from the three-minute constraints of the 78 rpm record, the musicians stretched out on tracks that ran for roughly five minutes. They were all in top form as they provided a fitting climax to a year of stellar bebop recordings,” says Maggin.

Dizzy and Bird, backed by John Lewis, Al McKibbon, and Joe Harris, performed “Groovin’ High” on September 29, 1947, to an appreciative audience at Carnegie Hall. By the ‘50s Gillespie was touring the world and was received by enthusiastic audiences in Paris (1952) and Brazil (1956). In 1982 he and Stan Getz performed “Groovin’ High” at the White House.

- Sandra Burlingame

Recommendations for This Tune
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Dizzy Gillespie
Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: Dizzy Gillespie
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1945

This is the best-known version of “Groovin’ High” and it still sounds remarkably fresh. Gillespie takes it at a swinging medium tempo and plays a wonderful, dexterous solo, as do saxophone giant Charlie Parker and bassist Slam Stewart.

Dizzy Gillespie;Charlie Parker
Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945
Uptown Jazz
Original Recording 1945

Recorded only months after the tune’s original studio recordings, this one documents a live performance and thus allows us to hear both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker stretch out a bit on their solos. The band is rounded out by pianist Al Haig, who takes a nice solo of his own, bassist Curley Russell and drummer Max Roach.

Carter, Baranco, Mundy, Wilson
Groovin' High in Los Angeles: 1946 Vol 1
Allegro Corporation
Original Recording 1946

This recording is both the first “cover version” of the song and first big band version. Gerald Wilson’s arrangement is brash and clever, fully integrating the still-new bop language. Soloists here include trumpeter Hobart Dotson, saxophonist Eddie (“Lockjaw”) Davis and pianist Jimmy Bunn.

Hampton Hawes
All Night Session 1
Original Recording 1956

Hawes and his quartet take “Groovin’ High” at a brisk tempo. He and guitarist Jim Hall both contribute hard-swinging and extremely fluid solos.

Lou Donaldson
Lou Takes Off
Blue Note Records
Original Recording 1957

The development of bebop can be heard well here on alto saxophonist (and Charlie Parker disciple) Donaldson’s hard-swinging performance. There are great, flowing solos by Donaldson, Donald Byrd on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone and Sonny Clark on piano, while Jamil Nasser and Arthur Taylor keep things propulsive in the rhythm section.

Cannonball Adderley
Things Are Getting Better
Original Recording 1958

Saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and vibraphonist Milt Jackson keep things hard-swinging but relaxed on this authoritative performance. Wynton Kelly also contributes a solo, while Percy Heath and Art Blakey shine in supporting roles.

Hank Jones
Groovin High
Pony Canyon Japan
Original Recording 1978

Piano giant Jones interprets “Groovin’ High” in an unorthodox trio with his brother Thad on cornet and Mickey Roker on drums. Between the hard-swinging groove, Roker’s infectious brushes and Hank’s expert bop-inflected comping, the bass is not missed at all, and both of the Joneses solo brilliantly.

- Noah Baerman

Al Jarreau
Accentuate the Positive
2004 GRP Records 163402

Singer Jarreau presents the song as a vocalese melting pot, his rich tenor taking the place of Gillespie’s horn as he scats and invents off the cuff.
Booker Ervin
Groovin' High
1996 Original Jazz Classics 919
Original recording 1964
Drummer Alan Dawson and bassist Richard Davis keep the tempo high as saxophonist Ervin and trumpeter Carmell Jones trade hot bop licks.
Bobby Timmons Trio
Easy Does It
1992 Original Jazz Classics 722
Original recording 1961
Pianist Timmons’ fingers simply fly across the keys as the rhythm section maintains a fast and furious bop tempo in this wonderful reading of the tune.
Toots Thielemans
East Coast West Coast
1994 Private Music 82120

The harmonica master joins horn players Joshua Redman and Terence Blanchard for some unison lines before devising a creative solo. The fine rhythm section features Lyle Mays (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Troy Davis (drums).

- Ben Maycock

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