Barack Obama: Jazz Politician

It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally think I know why so many White folks are having a hard time getting into Barack Obama.

I think it’s because Barack is a jazz politician in a culture used to country and soft-ass pop politicians.   America respects jazz.  It just doesn’t want to listen to it.

Maybe because unlike pop music, jazz demands you not just listen, but actually hear.

Changin up the groove

Changin' up the groove

When I was a kid I was into soul music, pop music and rock music.  I wasn’t even slightly into jazz music.  Jazz was “old people’s music.”

Now that I’m older than I’ve ever been I love jazz.  I love it more than any other type of music even though I still have a soft place in my heart for some quality old school soul and every now and then I’ve got to hear some rock n’ roll guitar riffs blowing out of my car stereo.

Barack Obama is a jazz politician.  You can see him improvising, deviating from the script, and at times he’s way ahead of the audience.

Barack is no Miles.  He’s not Coltrane.  Miles and ‘Trane were not just innovators, they were revolutionaries.  He’s more like Herbie Hancock or George Benson.  Guys who didn’t so much blaze a path as they followed it and took it into their own direction.  That’s Obama.    A brother with serious chops and a even more serious education in politics, but aiming for a bigger audience; a crossover audience and the success that comes with it.

All of which  throughly pisses off the purists.   “He’s too brash and he hasn’t payed his dues,” they sneer.  Mediocre minds always throw stones at someone who doesn’t represent the status quo.

Real improvisers/innovators don’t play for critics.  They play for the people.   The hardcore few don’t give the people what they want.   They give them what they want first and make the fans realize they needed it later.
The trick of it is to not lose your authenticity  even while you’re bringing the message to a wider audience.  It’s a tricky move and just like Herbie and George, Barack has at times wandered a little too far from jazz into impure  Kenny G. pop/sludge.

And there’s nothing authentic about that.

But play on Barack.  Play on brother.

“We all have to open our minds, stretch forth, take chances and venture out musically to try and arrive at something new and different.”   ~ Horace Silver

Change “musically” to “politically.”  Otherwise the meaning doesn’t change.

3 thoughts on “Barack Obama: Jazz Politician

  1. Just wanted to say that I love your analogy. So if Obama is to American politics what Hancock or Benson are to American Jazz, who is McCain? …George Jones? …no older …Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys.
    Really, Obama strikes me more as a Jelly Roll Morton type …fast on the boards, …very cosmopolitan in his style, able to amalgamate and synthesize various genres and make a good healthy gumbo to feed an America that’s starving for some change!


    • Really? Ever hear of a guy named Clint Eastwood? Bona fide conservative. Directed the movie Bird? Called the first movie he directed Play Misty For Me where he played a disc jockey in a jazz radio station? Has a son named Kyle who plays pretty good bass?

      Beware the sweeping generalization, Jazz Site.


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