John Bailey – Can You Imagine?


Title: Can You Imagine?
Artist: John Bailey
Label: Freedom Road
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: January 20, 2020


Can You Imagine? is the second album from New York trumpeter John Bailey, who conceptualized the project around one of the fantastical “what ifs” of jazz: What if Dizzy Gillespie won his unlikely and somewhat jesting bid for president in 1964? What if Dizzy had made Miles Davis head of the CIA and Duke Ellington the Secretary of State? Would we, as a nation, be more compassionate and empathetic to our fellow humans? Though the campaign may have been in jest, Dizzy raised serious issues on the campaign trail during one of the most volatile periods of the Civil Rights Movement.

The resulting album features Bailey with saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trombonist Stanford Hunter, pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Mike Karen, and drummer Victor Louis, along with special guests Janet Axelrod on flute and Earl McIntyre on bass trombone and tuba.

Bailey’s composition “President Gillespie Suite” in three movements —”The Humanitarian Candidate,” “Road to the Blues House,” and “President Gillespie’s Birthday Song”—is the focal point of this concept album. Opening with a muted trumpet solo from Bailey, this piece gives a nod to Dizzy in both style and structure. A highlight of the suite is an excellent solo from Earl McIntyre on plungered trombone. Other notable moments include Bailey’s flugelhorn solo in “The Touch of Her Vibe,” and guest flutist Janet Axelrod’s work on “Valsa Rancho.”

After decades as a sideman, Bailey’s first album, In Real Time, was released in 2018. With its programmatic nature, Can You Imagine? takes a different direction, although both albums feature swing and Latin jazz tunes and share core personnel. Can You Imagine? is an album with a lot to say on the subjects of positivity, dignity, and civility, and Bailey conveys his message of with a masterful group of musicians.

Reviewed by Anna Hinkley