an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Meet the Smithsonian’s Incoming Secretary: Jazz Flutist David Skorton (with video)

Near the end of Cornell University’s Sesquicentennial Celebration this Saturday at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, my jaw dropped at the unexpected entrance of the host venue’s celebrated artistic director, Wynton Marsalis (who had attended Juilliard, not Cornell). Taking the stage with his combo, he launched into a lively set.

David Skorton (Cornell’s president and the soon-to-be Smithsonian secretary) is going to play with them,” I predicted to my husband, whom I met when we attended Cornell. I had previously seen the prez jam with a different combo at an on-campus event. I knew he couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity for a Lincoln Center debut with the trumpet master.

David Skorton, Smithsonian's Secretary-elect Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

David Skorton, the Smithsonian’s new band leader
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In a 2009 essay, The Arts Are Essential, Skorton, a cardiologist, had written:

Music…has been an important part of my own life since my teen years. I worked as a rhythm and blues musician in the Chicago area to help pay my way at Northwestern University, where I earned my undergraduate and medical degrees, and I continue to make time for music.

Make time he did (although, as you will hear, his timing and technique were less than impeccable, in what was presumably a one-time gig).

Rest assured that his leadership skills and accomplishments far outstrip his musical ability. My CultureGrrl Video, below, starts with his reference (in conversation with NBC News correspondent Kate Snow, who was a Cornellian) to his “new adventure”—the Smithsonian post that he will assume in July.

Then, cue the flute:

an ArtsJournal blog