Here is a Synopsis of Between the Notes: [A Daughter’s Journey to Creativity]
This is a creative memoir depicting my life with my father Walter “Gil” Fuller, a well-known jazz arranger/composer and conductor for world famous trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. My father wrote, arranged and directed Dizzy and his orchestra for 20 years. My father also wrote arrangements and collaborated with other world class musicians such as James Moody, Charlie Parker, and Thelonius Monk to name a few. He was known for his big band and bebop sound & style. He had a reputation of being driven and very precise in his work. Because of his perfectionism, his instrumental arrangement and Dizzy’s performance of The Shadow of Your Smilegenerated a tremendous amount of popularity. They won a Grammy nomination in 1965.
I was fortunate to go with my father to most of the rehearsals between 1964-1969 with The Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra that recorded two albums: the first featuring Dizzy Gillespie and the second featuring James Moody a renowned saxophone player. The Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra performed for the opening of the Music Center in Los Angeles with Stan Kenton and his Neophonic Orchestra in 1967. In 1992 my father’s interviews with Vincent Pelote who is a Jazz Historian @ Rutgers University Institute of Jazz were included in the Smithsonian’s Oral History exhibit in Washington, DC.
My father encouraged me to be independent and I secretly began writing and doing art when I was 11 years old. It was my only solace for being mixed race. I discovered the joy of getting in touch with my inner creative source. Going with my father to rehearsals, I could see and feel my father’s creative passion for jazz which inspired me to find my passion to write and create collage art. In 2000, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer this gave me a second chance to actualize my dream of writing and creating art. This memoir tells the story of my healing creative journey.
A CD of my father’s recordings with the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra is available: Dizzy Gillespie & James Moody with Gil Fuller & the Monterey Jazz Festival Orchestra by Dizzy Gillespie (Audio CD – 2008) – Original recording reissued.
Now I will include the snapshots of my life that will be included in the Prelude chapter…
I feel as though I lived my life in disguise. I had this nagging feeling that I was a note that floated in space on a music scale I became dependent upon my father’s hand to compose my life song. He wrote a ballad for me several months after I was born. The song entitled “Jannat” my given name, best describes how my father envisioned my life, yet no one understands, so this is my story…
The space between the notes symbolizes my life. The vastness of not understanding the mystery of growing up mixed race in the 1960’s was somewhat daunting. I didn’t know what racism was because growing up my parents made me feel safe and loved. We did not socialize with people outside our family very often. I never really knew why. We had two lives a private life which was safe and a public life which I was told was unsafe. In public my father instructed me to not acknowledge my mom as my mother. I remember when my mother would come to my elementary school to see the principal; my mother was always described as a close friend of the family who was an educator.
When my mother graduated from the University of Southern California, he grabbed my forearm and told me, …don’t get up, don’t cheer, most of all don’t acknowledge that she is your mother. It is to protect her; you will destroy everything she has worked for to get her two Masters Degrees. I sunk into my seat wanting to die because deep down inside I felt she was ashamed of me. The music world became my public life and was the only place where mixed race families seemed normal.
My father wanted me to be a successful doctor. When I was older he admitted that was something that he secretly wanted to become himself. I excelled in school. I became an overachiever believing that would compensate for my not fitting in. He didn’t have a clue what my life was like in school. I was different. I withdrew into my secret world reading, writing and drawing to survive. My classmates would come up to me and ask me what I was. They had never encountered a mixed person before. I would ask them what they meant. They would say “…what race are you, you aren’t African American, you don’t talk or act like that.” I would reply “My race, I’m human….” I never told him. I buried my feelings inside as if I was holding my breath….
In the 1930s and 1940s, my father did extensive work composing and arranging for world renown bandleaders such as Les Hite and Billy Eckstine; he also worked with Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Tito Puente. After World War II he became increasingly into demand as a bebop arranger, he arranged for Tadd Dameron, Gil Evans, and George Russell. He was especially noted for arranging and composing for Dizzy Gillespie and became his music director, they toped the charts with “Manteca”, “Swedish Suite”, and “One Bass Hit”. Through out my father’s career he worked with big band jazz leaders Stan Kenton in 1955 and once again in 1965 when the Los Angeles Music Center’s grand opening. Also in 1965, he also won a Grammy nomination with Dizzy Gillespie for his arrangement of “The Shadow of Your Smile” (Love theme from the “Sandpiper”).
My father was born Walter “Gil” Fuller on April 14, 1920. He lived with his mother in a 3 story brownstone house in Newark, New Jersey. My father told me his father died when he was 11 years old. The coble stone street was clean and barren and sprinkled with poplar trees. The interior of his home was minimalist in nature, comprised of just the bare essentials. It had three bedrooms, one bedroom for his mother and his step father, one for himself and the third bedroom was converted into a sewing room where his mom would sew for hours on end by the window which was her connection to the world at large. His mother was a very successful dressmaker. She made his entire wardrobe, which he wore proudly because he knew that when his mother made his clothes, they were more valuable than those bought in any of the finest stores. That was his family’s only way of survival during those times when the primary focus was where your next meal was coming from.
My father always described the state of things when he was growing up, …everyone in the country was hurt to some degree by the onset of the Depression of the 1930’s by its class conflicts. It was also a very tumultuous time in terms of race relations even with the New Deal and its opening up of employment opportunities. Most of the jazz in the 1930’s even into the early 1940’s was called “Swing” music and during this time entertainment and going out and dancing was the favorite way of dealing with the ravages of the Depression era. Big bands were flourishing and it was during this time that jazz was not only showcasing soloists; but also was responsible for the birth of modern jazz.
Several musicians who have worked with my father would always tell me, Your dad put the capital P in the word perfectionist. Despite my father’s unquestionable versatility, he always told me,..everywhere I went they tagged me as a bebop writer. The fact that I was a trained, experienced all-around musician meant nothing to them. Being a pioneer has its disadvantages. Growing up with him I realized he lamented about not being recognized for who he really was inside and somehow he wanted to shield me from the pain of not being understood and appreciated.
There is more… stay tuned. Peace Out!