Bill Clinton touts musical greats

NEW YORK — While his former second banana, Al Gore, was stumping for Howard Dean last week, Bill Clinton was busy endorsing John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday.

Those are just a few of the late jazz legends whose names came up Wednesday night at a symposium that paired the former president and sometime saxophone player with the rather more accomplished trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center, where Marsalis is artistic director, the panel discussion addressed the relationship between jazz, a native American art form, and our politics and culture.

Backstage after the event, Clinton, whom Marsalis affectionately described as “a fellow musician and Southerner,” spoke of his devotion to Marsalis’ organization, which has granted him an honorary seat at its future home, a new performing-arts facility for jazz.

“Jazz is a big part of our being a free country,” Clinton said. “It brought blacks and whites together at a time when nothing else did, when all the schools and churches and restaurants were still segregated.

“And when it took hold in communist countries, I was reminded of how it affected Americans. (Former Czech Republic president Vaclav) Havel told me how he used the jazz clubs to promote the Velvet Revolution, because everyone who came there already agreed with him. They wanted to be freer.”

Clinton added that promoting jazz as a creative and educational tool outside the USA “could do a lot of good, especially in countries where they’re still really poor and there’s not as much media. In places like Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda, it would mean a lot to them.”

On a more personal note, Clinton described how his love for jazz informed the diverse musical selections programmed on his iPod, which include “pretty much everything that (piano legend) Oscar Peterson ever played that’s on CD. There are multiple versions of lots of songs, and a lot of different saxophone players. I’d say I have at least two recordings by just about every jazz saxophone player who made a mark.”

Alas, Clinton chose not to show off his own sax skills to the Lincoln Center crowd, which was treated to a brief performance by Marsalis.

“I’m not good enough anymore,” Clinton sighed. “But I’ve told Wynton that when I finish my book, I want him to go up with me to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, which we’re trying to save. I’m going to play on amateur night, and he’s going to play loud enough to cover my sins. My great goal in life, before I die, is to do amateur night at the Apollo with Wynton Marsalis. I just hope we don’t get the hook.”

by Elysa Gardner
Source: USA Today

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