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 pianist 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