Dearies, when you look at the standard of political discourse here at home and around the world, it makes one want to barricade oneself in a cave and dynamite the entrance.
That being said, you have to wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to go into politics these days. Women and men who truly wish to serve their communities and countries are being overshadowed by those who seek power, wealth and prestige…at any cost. And that pricetag for Democracy is becoming increasingly more obscene.
The American Presidential and Canadian & British Prime Ministerial races are particularly fraught with peril. Although Canada’s is far more boring, truth be told. But I digress…
Was listening to Tim Tamashiro, CBC radio’s superb jazz majordomo, on The Tonic. He was introducing a wonderful piece by none other than Dizzy Gillespie, when he mentioned that Dizzy had once run for President. I choked on my champers Dearies. The prospect was mind-boggling but also totally plausible. Hit the research button.
In a 2004 article in the Guardian, the great jazz columnist John Fordham wrote
American politics could have turned out very differently if a little-known presidential campaign of the mid-1960s had been able to vault the millionaires-only hurdle. Duke Ellington could have been secretary of state, Max Roach could have been running the military, and the CIA might have been under the thumb of that master of subterfuge, Miles Davis himself.
The presidential candidate offering these irresistible alternatives was the trumpeter and bebop pioneer John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, who declared himself a runner in 1964, up against Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. As well as a potential cabinet of jazz all-stars, Gillespie’s ticket advocated US withdrawal from Vietnam, putting African-American astronauts into space, and renaming the White House the Blues House.
Whoa Dudes, Dizzy for President!. I can totally dig that. The Duke, Miles Davis, Max Roach. I would have added Ella Fitzgerald and Sassy Sarah Vaughan to that Cabinet. And Dorothy Donegan could have ridden roughshod over them all…
Could the founder of Bebop and his jammin’ Cabinet have set America on a different path? Would the world have followed? I really would love to think so.
When you think about it, jazz musicians – musicians in general, have great discipline and focus, not to mention talent. They know how to play well in the sandbox, something that Congress and the House of Commons need to relearn. These particular musicians, along with most of their colleagues experienced the worst of Jim Crow and its antecedents. They understood what it means to be a foreigner in your own homeland. They never let that stop them from spreading the Gospel of Jazz and its underlying message of hope.
Mr. Gillespie and Friends lived through turbulent times. All of these great musicians kept the home fires burning with their magnificent joyous, hopeful music. Most of them still faced the “Whites only” racism in their everyday lives, not just in the Deep South, but in the North and elsewhere. As Mr. Gillespie once said
Men have died for this music. You can’t get more serious than that
The Second World War shaped the modern geographical map. It saw African Americans serve with distinction, in the face of continuing racism at home and on the battlefield. It redefined all the “isms” – Fascism, Communism, Socialism – and set the stage for the Cold War.
Harry S. Truman came to office upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, at the end of the War. Germany surrendered early in his administration, Japan would follow. Truman involved the US in the Korean War, making an enemy of World War 2 ally China.
Senators Joseph McCarthy and Estes Kefauver went after Communists and Organized Crime. MacCarthy ‘s House Committee on Un-American Activities blacklisted singer Lena Horne and clarinetist and composer Artie Shaw amongst many others, creating a national climate of fear and paranoia. The Kefauver Commission prosecuted organized crime figures and rattled the cage of FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover.
General Dwight David Eisenhower was elected President after Truman. One of the architects of the successful war on the European Front, Eisenhower served two terms.
A young President lived the illusion of Camelot. John F Kennedy flexed his muscles with the Cuban Missile Crisis. He ensnared America in a far-off land called Vietnam. JFK fell under an assassin’s bullet. Brother Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King carried the mantle for Civil RIghts until they too were felled by an assassin’s bullet.
Lyndon Johnson inherited Vietnam. The Best and Brightest were far from the best, and it was their stubborn brightness that dragged a great nation into that abyss. President Johnson did champion and finally enact the Civil Rights Act, but the Vietnam War nearly killed him. And then there was Richard Nixon…
Could President John Birks “DIzzy”Gillespie and His Allstar Cabinet have done a better job? Why not. The Joint would have been jumpin’!
I remember a magical night long ago at the Hollywood Bowl, with Dizzy Gillespie and His Jazz All-Star Big Band. Mr. Gillespie came out to thunderous applause. He made a sweeping bow to the Band, raised his trumpet to his lips, and then transported us to A Night in Tunisia…
Am raising my class of champers to John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie and all of his colleagues, who embody the very best of America…courage, dedication, talent, passion. How can you not love a man who kibbitzed with Kermit the Frog!