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Jazz, Baseball, Politics and the Beltway Blues: Our American Dialogue, Part II

By Published: December 20, 2012
Below is a map of the United States of America, designed "with Photoshop and a calculator" by New York musician Cousin Cole. Instead of portraying all the states according to how their electoral votes were cast, it is designed to show the popular vote in each state. Clearly, we are not a nation divided by our political or geographic boundaries. In the 2012 presidential election there were only a very small handful of demonstrably Democrat Blue states (aside from the 91.4% of Washington, D.C.'s 240,000+ votes, the highest popular vote percentage in one of the fifty states was 67.0% for Obama in Vermont) or Republican Red states (the highest was 72.8% for Romney in Utah). All the rest are thorough admixtures of both, shown by the many shades of purple, magenta, lavender, mauve, violet, etc.

No matter what your political persuasion, you are within a stone's throw of an enthusiastic supporter of the opposite hue. Standing next to each other, your shared aura is a lovely shade of purple.

You can't beat real life.

Which jazz musicians seem to have known from the start. Jazz music is a world view. Your value to the rest of humanity doesn't lie in being the same as other people, doing the same activities and having the same things as everyone else, but in being who you are, and having something of your own to contribute. Blending in and doing it the way everyone else does it is easy virtue. Keeping what you can do to yourself, not sharing it, is the sin. A jazz musician's unique qualities are his or her calling card, especially the personally developed technical skills, that combination of a classical musician's chops and a blues musician's sense of swing that takes the ordinary and makes it jump to life.

Much of what makes you different is what makes you valuable in jazz. Chick Corea's story of his first gig with Miles Davis illustrates why. Herbie Hancock was Miles' pianist at the time, but was unexpectedly waylaid in South America with a case of food poisoning. When Tony Williams suggested Chick as a replacement, Miles had him fly in just before the show. When they met in the hotel lobby, Chick asked the usual questions about which tunes, what changes, if there would be a rehearsal, etc., to which Miles said to just show up for the first set and "play what you hear."

Corea was understandably nervous. He was a promising young pianist/composer in 1968, ambitious and totally aware of what a successful performance with the most celebrated jazz musician/bandleader in the world could mean for his career. When the band—The Quintet described earlier with Williams, Carter and Shorter—took off on the first tune, the time and changes were flying incomprehensibly fast, so he did what Miles had instructed and just played what he heard. At the break, rattled and anxious, he went to the bar and was sipping a drink, trying to calm down. Miles came up behind him and when Chick turned, offered him a great jazzer's compliment: "Chick, you are a motherfucker!"


Life—political life in particular—really could imitate jazz to great benefit. Mixing it up live, raw and unrehearsed, similar to the selection process Miles used to audition Corea (who he subsequently employed full time for the next two years) just might be the solution.

For the sake of the congressional elections in 2014, and for the next presidential election in 2016, we American improvisers might consider experimenting with the approach suggested by Seattle-area novelist (and baseball fan) Bruce Fergusson in his intriguing blog article entitled "Kleroterias."

The general idea is to institute the Greek—specifically Athenian—system of election by lottery. Don't laugh. Okay, fine, laugh ... but read the essay (it's a short, 5-minute read, unlike this one). Fergusson's piece was written just prior to the presidential election. It contains a degree of partisan bias with an endorsement (now moot, of course), but ironically, if you read what he says closely, you'll see it is germane to his commentary.

Added to Fergusson's suggestion of establishing a presidential lottery, I would include a few other items in a Campaign Reform Act of 2013, in the interests of informing the voting citizenry and keeping the Fourth Estate honest:

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