It’s odd that of all the nuances of expression jazz can convey, the thrill of victory and celebration of success is hard to find among the music’s classics. Barack Obama’s heartening win of the presidency prompts me to search out joyous music, but I can’t think of a movement akin to the bells ringing in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in the repertoire of Miles, Ornette, Cecil or Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, Bird and Diz, or Ellington, Basie and Goodman. The crowning last chorus of Armstrong’s “Tight LIke This” comes to mind, though the satisfaction bespoke in the trumpeter’s final ringing notes seems to reflect gratification that’s more personal than socio-political. Where’s jazz’s happy party music?
Maybe it’s the legacy of the blues that mutes the music’s sense of triumph. There are a lot of good-time and fun sounds in jazz — think irrepressible Fats Waller, upbeat Wes Montgomery, exuberant Sonny Rollins — but there is very little that smacks of the self-congratulatory feelings that winners can justifiably indulge after coming out on top of prolonged and difficult campaigns. Jazz seems to temper its joy with the thought that the struggle continues and it’s folly to forget that for even a moment.