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Field Notes: Jazz at the White House

The Obamas host jazz greats to celebrate International Jazz Day

Joey Alexander, Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter (from left) take part in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Photo from International Jazz Day
Christian McBride, Sadao Watanabe, Al Jarreau and Lee Ritenour (from left) perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Herbie Hancock and Aretha Franklin perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Buddy Guy performs in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Diana Krall performs in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Esperanza Spalding (with Zakir Hussain at back) takes part in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
As Dee Dee Bridgewater and Chick Corea look on, Esperanza Spalding embraces Al Jarreau at the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016.
Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling, Jamie Cullum, Dianne Reeves and Sting (from left) sing John Lennon's "Imagine," to close the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
President Obama closes the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Photo of President Obama with UNESCO ambassador Herbie Hancock and other performers at International Jazz Day
President Obama thanks Herbie Hancock to close the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Herbie Hancock (far left) and Aretha Franklin (far right), along with an all-star assemblage of musicians, pay tribute to Prince at the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Sting, Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper (at back) perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Jamie Cullum performs in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling (with Trombone Shorty at back) perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House on April 29, 2016
Hugh Masekela (far left) and an all-star band perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Morgan Freeman emcees the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Miller, John McLaughlin, Kendrick Scott and Zakir Hussain (from left) perform Miles' "Spanish Key" at the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Bebo Valdés, Paquito D'Rivera, Ben Williams, James Morrison and Lionel Loueke (from left) perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Dianne Reeves, with bassist James King and drummer Nasar Abadey, performs at a D.C. church as part of International Jazz Day 2016
Dianne Reeves, with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist James King and drummer Nasar Abadey, performs at a D.C. church as part of International Jazz Day 2016
Dianne Reeves, Danilo Pérez and (at back) John Beasley perform in the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016
Helen Mirren introduces Sting at the International Jazz Day Global Concert at the White House; April 29, 2016

Before we get to the message, let us praise the logistics management. What poor, sleep-deprived soul was tasked with editing down Friday evening’s White House jazz concert, hosted by the Obamas, which stretched toward two and a half resourcefully efficient hours, into the single hour that aired on network television Saturday night? It was a necessary duty, sure, but also an absurd one. This was already an all-star bonanza engineered like a Swiss watch. Headliner-caliber musicians from around the globe rotated in and out with enough ease to suggest an oldies roadshow. Individual performances were kept to pop length but didn’t feel truncated.

Well, with some exceptions. Chick Corea, on keys, guitarist John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, on soprano saxophone, tabla master Zakir Hussain, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, electric bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Kendrick Scott and second keyboardist John Beasley performed Miles’ “Spanish Key,” to a three-minute countdown projected onto the house teleprompter. With a harder-grooving backbeat than the headlong surge of the Bitches Brew version, and more emphasis on the themes, it was a jazz-rock moment worth savoring. As a colleague to my right chuckled, he could have used plenty more of that. I felt the same way, about the program on the whole.

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Originally Published