Sandoval, Gillespie And The Medal

Now that the White House has announced President Obama’s Medal of Freedom winners for 2013, the sniping begins over his choices. Here is my snipe. Whatever Arturo’s Sandoval’s merits as a musician, they are put in perspective by his biography in the White House announcement, which notes that the trumpeter and Sandoval and Gillespiepianist was a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie. (They are pictured together). That shines a bright light on the fact that while he was alive and in the 20 years since his death, Gillespie has been ignored in the Medal of Freedom selections. The medals can be awarded posthumously, and three of this year’s will be.

Sandoval is an accomplished musician, but I suspect that the dramatic story of his escape to the United States from Castro’s Cuba carried more weight in his selection than his standing as an artist. Gillespie was among the most important figures of the twentieth century as a trumpeter, the leading theoretical teacher in the bebop movement, a pioneering international cultural ambassador for the US and a dynamic and inspirational presence in American life. Let us hope that in the 2014 round of medal deliberations, President Obama will give serious consideration to Gillespie and, while he’s at it, to alto saxophonist Charlie Parker (1920-1955), the genius who called Gillespie, “the other half of my heartbeat.”

Here, alphabetically, is the complete list of 2013 Medal of Freedom Winners:

Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs home run star and hall of famer.
Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of The Washington Post.
Former President Bill Clinton.
Senator Daniel Inouye, (posthumous), first Japanese-American elected to Congress, WWII Medal of Honor winner.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist.
Richard Lugar, former US Senator, bipartisan leader in the movement to reduce threat of nuclear weapons.
Loretta Lynn, country music vocalist.
Mario Molina, chemist and environmental scientist.
Sally Ride (posthumous), first US female astronaut in space.
Bayard Rustin, (posthumous), pioneer of nonviolent resistance in the civil rights movement, organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.
Arturo Sandoval, trumpeter, pianist, composer.
Dean Smith, University of North Carolina basketball coach from 1961 to 1997, with two national championships and a record-setting number of wins.
Gloria Steinmen, writer and women’s equality activist.
C.T. Vivian, minister, author, organizer, civil rights leader.
Patricia Wald, retired chief judge of US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Oprah Winfrey, broadcast journalist, talk show host, philanthropist.

And here, for those who need a reminder, is nearly an hour of Dizzy Gillespie with the group of his peers known as the Giants of Jazz, in Copenhagen in 1971: Kai Winding, trombone; Sonny Stitt, saxophone; Thelonious Monk, piano; Al McKibbon, bass; Art Blakey, drums. We rarely post videos of this length on Rifftides, but in most of the northern hemisphere it’s too hot to be outside and in much of the southern, too cold. This will help you stay cool, or warm, or just right.

Accolades to Sergio Balint for placing that video on YouTube

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  1. Joe Lang says

    Thanks for posting this video. I did not know that it existed. I saw the Giants of Jazz at the opening concert of the 1972 Newport in New York Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall in 1972, the first year that it was held in New York. Also on the program that night were Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine. Needless to say, it was quite an evening of wonderful music.

    Regarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, there are many jazz greats missing form the list, including Louis Armstrong, whom I believe should head any list honoring jazz people. The only jazz people who have been honored with the medal are Duke Ellington (1969), Eubie Blake (1981), Count Basie (1985) and Ella Fitzgerald (1992), all worthy recipients. All were alive to accept their medals, except for Count Basie. If I were to select a current jazz player, it would be Bucky Pizzarelli for the sheer joy that he has brought into the lives of anyone who has seen him and played with him during his 70-year career. He is a true gentleman who personifies all the good things that we look for in a person to admire.

  2. says

    Dizzy will be honored next year, that’s for ool-ya-kooly sure.

    As for this boppin’ year, it’s quite easy to tell you the reason why “they” are still mad about him: “They” have no humor 😉

    “They” couldn’t laugh about THIS …namely groovy Dr. Gee, running for oop-pop-a-da “La Presidencee.”

    “How long was Cain mad about his brother?”

    “As long as he was Abel.”

    :) :) :)

    “They” can’t stand senseless jokes like this.

    Go and tell ’em: “To be or not to bop! — That’s no question.”

    Or, as another president would have put it:

    “All free men, wherever they may live, are disciples of John Birks Gillespie, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Bebopper.”


  3. Terence Smith says

    Would it be possible to invent some kind of four-way award for Bird, Diz, Monk, and Powell? I am not sure what title would be suitable, but it would be a posthumous award for Inventing the Future.

  4. Светлана says

    While listening to this wonderful concert I recollected that I have got a DVD film of the similar concert with the same gloriuos line up, recorded on October 30, 1971 in Prague. It includes “Woody ‘n You” in addition.

    In the liner note they write: “…this Prague concert is the only known evidence of the Giants of Jazz on film”. The existence of the DVD above proves them to be wrong. A bit strange, isn’t it?

  5. says

    I totally agree with this judicious article (Herbie Hancock is another worthy candidate), but I would like to add a few comments.

    I agree that Arturo Sandoval may have many merits as a musician; no doubt about that. But the claim (Jazz Times) that he was once jailed for three months for listening to jazz (listening to the “voice of the enemy”) sounds frankly ridiculous and pathetic. Not only he was able to listen to jazz while living in Cuba, but he was one of the main representatives of the genre there. He used to play in the Havana Jazz Festival where he actually met Dizzy Gillespie, who used to travel to Cuba where he had (and has) masses of more than enthusiastic fans. Sandoval was a member of Irakere, the legendary salsa and latin-jazz band led by Chucho Valdés. While in Cuba Sandoval gave interviews to the British BBC cultural TV program “Arena” in which he praises the Cuban educational system for having given him the chance to become a great jazz musician (I still have the video recordings).

    He also talks about the freedom to play jazz in Cuba which, according to him, was a ´tradition´ in the island. How could he have been jailed for listening to jazz in a country that has produced jazz legends like Chucho Valdés and Harold López-Nussa, amongst many others, who regularly tour and record in the United Satates and the World, only to return to Cuba where they have their homes? (Valdés organizes the Havana jazz festival). Have they been jailed for playing jazz in the ´enemy´s country´? Not only has Cuba produced first class jazz musicians over the years, but in that country there are famous jazz venues such as the ´Jazz Café´ and the legendary ´Zorra y el cuervo´ jazz club, which hav been going for decades. How can someone claim to have been jailed for listening to jazz in this context? Sandoval may have been jailed for other reasons, I do not doubt that, but not for listening to jazz. I have visited Cuba several times where I have interviewed jazz musicians for a BBC World Service radio jazz series (and have also played in jam sessions at the Zorra y el cuervo jazz club) and cannot imagine why the White House and some of the media in the U.S. are spreading this story. Is it ignorance, sloppy unkempt journalism, or are we going back to old fashioned cold war propaganda?

    • David says

      Horacio Hernandez also has a story about being jailed in Cuba for music. He tells it here, from 1:50 – 3:10:

      Dizzy used to introduce Ignacio Berroa by saying, “I first met this next young man in the Atlantic ocean…..swimming…..he was trying to get to Miami…..from Cuba…..he made it.”

    • says

      Even the Soviet Union had its special kind of “hard bop” (I don’t have the links anymore, but there are some examples at YouTube). … The only country I know where you went straight to jail, or to a labor camp when you listened to jazz, or to broadcasts of “the enemy”, was the so called “Third Reich”, brown Hitler-Germany from 1933 to 1945.

      It was very dangerous to listen to, and to perform swinging music then. There was only one aggregation who was allowed to play jazz, big band swing: Charlie & His Orchestra.

      I have some of their LP’s, and they were actually quite good players; but their lyrics, delivered by the only convinced Nazi in this all-European band, Karl “Charlie” Schwedler, were pure propaganda.

      • David says

        Fascinating article. I found dozens of clips of this orchestra on you tube, including the cheerful “Let’s Go Bombing!” Goebbels considered jazz, “music that is based on rhythm and entirely ignores or even shows contempt for melody, music in which rhythm is indicated primarily by the ugly sounds of whining instruments so insulting to the soul.” BTW, “Bruno & His Swinging Tigers” could be a good moniker for ‘Dixieland’ gigs; I wonder if any would recognize where you got it?

      • Jim Brown says

        Amen to the honors due Diz, Bird, Monk, Pops, and Willis, a list to which I would add Prez. As Diz once said, no Armstrong, no me. And Willis’s influence is immense — even a short google search turns dozens of stories of lives changed by his broadcasts.

  6. Steve Gilmore says

    One of the many things I enjoyed on this video was the wonderful, and often overlooked and underrated, playing of Al McKibbon. He was such a strong force in any rhythm section he played with, yet on this video he got plenty of space to stretch out. I can hear his influence on many more well known players such as Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford and Leroy Vinnegar.