There are many reasons to remember Dizzy Gillespie. His look, for one thing: the horn-rimmed glasses, pouched-out frog cheeks, and that trumpet, bent up at a 45-degree angle. The ground floor inventor of bebop, he had an unforgettable sound, a mastery of harmonic invention and implied chords, firing off fusillades of rhythmic phrasing. Gillespie was smart. He was funny. He played with Charlie Parker and influenced Miles Davis. Fifty years ago, he also ran for president.
It started as a joke, as so many serious things do. His booking agency had some “Dizzy Gillespie for president” buttons made around 1960, because, you see, it’s funny. Somebody even asked Gillespie why a black jazzman — a permanent member of the underclass if there ever was one — would even think of trying for the job. “Because we need one,” he said.