One of the most delightful memories I have of my time spent in Washington DC during Jimmy Carter's tenure, was his support for jazz while he lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
My most prized momento from that period is my invitation to a jazz concert on the White House lawn on June 18, 1978, held in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.
I was working at radio station WPFW-FM Pacifica Washington as the Program Director, and since our musical format was "jazz and jazz extensions", the Station Manager Gregory Millard, and I both received invites.
It didn't hurt that we also had Congressman John Conyers on the air, doing his show "Jazz From the Hill". He was and still is a big jazz fan.
I think my mom was more excited about the event than I was. Her 60's radical daughter going to the White House. I got about 3 calls a week from her about what I was going to wear, admonitions that I couldn't wear my normal jeans and a turtle neck or overalls, and a week before time to go a box arrived from Bloomingdale's, with an outfit, selected by mom.
Greg and I arrived early, showed our invites and were escorted to our seats on the lawn. We were one row behind the Carter's and had a great view of the event, which was intense.
(My favorite was Dexter Gordon)
A poster to a jazz forum had this to report:
Years later, toward the end of his presidency, Jimmy Carter held a jazz festival on a lawn of the White House. It wasn't one of those "star" performances at a state dinner, or the kind of honors ceremony at which Richard Nixon had the chutzpah to play a two-piano duet with the ever-gracious Duke Ellington.
Carter was a jazz fan. In his introduction, he told of how he had, before becoming an eminence, frequented jazz clubs, and he said something no other president had said before: jazz did not have the stature it deserved in its native land because of the racism here.
George Wein had orchestrated an intriguing sequence of performers-from Eubie Blake to Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie. At the end, Dizzy cajoled the president to sing the "Salt Peanuts" refrain as he and Max accompanied the chief executive on that bop anthem.
A number of cabinet members were in the front seats throughout the concert. One of them, listening impassively, was Attorney General Griffin Bell, in private life a powerful Atlanta attorney, who for years since has been a partner in one of the most successful law firms in the country, and a sometime presidential adviser.
When Cecil started his set, Bell leaned forward and became immobile, fixing his attention on the kinetic pianist. When Cecil hit the last thunderous notes, he made one of his high-speed exits, rushing into the shrubbery. The Attorney General leapt off his seat and chased Cecil until he cornered him.
Later, I asked Cecil, "What the hell did he want?"
"He wanted," Cecil said matter-of-factly, "to know where he could get some of my records."
Radio host Felix Grant of WMAL did interviews with most the participants.
We were served some tasty food too. The menu was Jambalaya, salad and pecan pie for dessert.
As I think back to that very special time, I'm excited that 30 years later there will be a cultural renaissance at the White House and I can't wait to see what President Obama does to turn the spotlight on music again. Not because it is expected of him as a President, but because he has a deep-seated appreciation of a broad spectrum of genres; classic and contemporary.
As Jimmy Carter did before him, perhaps the White House lawn will become a place for the showcasing of our American musical talents, and it won't just be the type of elites who go to State dinners who get to attend. It is a tribute to Jimmy Carter that us community folks at Pacifica got an invite.
Barack's musical tastes have been discussed in a number of interviews; here's one snippet from Rolling Stone:
What did you listen to growing up?
I have pretty eclectic tastes. I grew up in the Seventies, so a lot of Seventies rhythm & blues and pop were staples for me: Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Elton John, Rolling Stones.
Is there anyone who you would say were musical heroes to you at the time?
If I had one, it would have to be Stevie Wonder. When I was just at that point where you start getting involved in music, Stevie had that run with Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Innervisions, and then Songs in the Key of Life.
Those are as brilliant a set of five albums as we've ever seen. So that was a guy I loved, and I loved the Stones.
What's your favorite Stones stuff?
"Gimme Shelter" is a great song.
What are you listening to now? What's on your iPod? When I was in high school, probably my sophomore or junior year, I started getting into jazz. So I've got a lot of Coltrane, a lot of Miles Davis, a lot of Charlie Parker. I've got all the artists we've already talked about, but I've got everything from Howlin' Wolf to Yo-Yo Ma to Sheryl Crow to Jay-Z.
So who would you like to see Barack bring to the White House? Not limited to jazz, though that's my bias.
Name your genre, and feel free to share music videos here.
I'll start with one of my favorite musicians from that event: Dexter Gordon (February 27, 1923 – April 25, 1990) and will add one of the other greats who also did not live to see Barack's presidency (my all time favorite jazz artist) John Coltrane(September 23, 1926, July 17, 1967).
Dexter Gordon - Skylark
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things - 1961
***Thank you music fans for recommending this***
Now send your next President your requests!