More than halfway through a gala star-studded jazz concert at the White House on Friday came one stirring performance. Wayne Shorter, who at 82 is an elder statesman and perhaps jazz’s greatest living composer, dug into “Footprints,” a composition he first recorded a half-century ago. He played in trio: with bassist Esperanza Spalding, who at 30 is a star in ascent in her own right and among Shorter’s closest disciples; and with Joey Alexander, who was raised in Indonesia and will soon turn 13. Shorter played in quick flurries and bright bursts of sound, stating his music’s theme only obliquely. It was he, not Alexander, that exuded a child’s sense of playfulness. Alexander played piano with mature restraint and implied wisdom, not just regarding the tune itself but also what Shorter wanted done with it, which was less about reverence or history than possibilities in the moment.
That performance, as it played out on the stage within an elaborate tent on the South Lawn of the White House, didn’t appear within “Jazz at the White House,” the primetime ABC-TV special that aired on Saturday night and can be streamed online through May.
Instead, the network used taped segment, played inside the White House’s East Wing, under a portrait of Bill Clinton. The sound was likely better in there, the visual intimacy heightened by closer quarters. Even so, perhaps it was all too intense, or maybe such instrumental abstraction tries a TV audience: The cameras cut away before the trio was through.
Even in abbreviated form, the scene communicated a great deal about what jazz musicians reach for when they make music as well as the music’s reach—across generations, geographic borders and audience demographics. Continue reading “From the White House South Lawn, An Expansive View of Jazz”