The Jazz for Obama talent pool fundraising for the re-election of the President at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway, NYC) tonight is stellar. Roy Haynes, Joe Lovano, Brad Mehldau, Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Barron, Jim Hall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ravi Coltrane, Arturo O’Farrill, Kenny Garrett, Geri Allen, Jeff ‘Tain” Watts, Christian McBride, Gretchen Partlato, Claudio Acuña, Ralph Peterson, Henry Grimes, Aaron Goldberg, Greg Hutchison know with whom their best interests lie, and it isn’t the candidate who intends to cut funds for PBS (no
doubt NPR and the NEA, too), dismantle the Affordable Care Act and increase the military budget.
Since very few jazz musicians purchase health insurance through employers, they know how difficult it is to find a decent plan at a viable rate as an individual, whatever state they live in. Jazzers are on the road a lot, so they’re unlikely to support any political party that makes it harder to vote in advance, online or by absentee ballot. As rugged individualists, they not big believers in corporations being people, too. They know better than to scorn those who don’t pay federal income tax because they’re don’t make enough $. Since they have historically been prone to sleazy business deals and royalty grabs, they are not among those who resent paying teachers, police and firemen among other civil servants for previously agreed upon and paid-for pensions. They know too much about life to regard all those receiving safety-net benefits and Social Security as lazy moochers.
Jazzers realize that there a big difference between working hard and being well paid. They have learned to operate on the economic fringes of mainstream American culture, their lifestyles often suspect and their financial foundations more creative than even the savviest hedge fund specialist’s (out of necessity, because they make do with much less, and it’s their own money/time/health/lives they’re gambling with, not someone else’s).
Furthermore, most jazz musicians are urbanites through and through, so they value government investments in public transportation and education, alternative energies and environmental protections, rather than oil wells in federal lands. I don’t know many who hunt, though I’m sure some do — and a majority are probably ok with gun control, since the shooting deaths of Lee Morgan, Eddie Jefferson, Jaki Byard and Frank Rosolino still feel raw.
Just on a personal level, they — ok, yeah, we — are probably more comfortable with a bi-racial, former stoner, community organizer who can sing a passable measure of an Al Green lyric than with a guy rich from birth, who doesn’t drink even coffee, and was a religious missionary to France. These are petty reasons to prefer one politician over another, I suppose, but they stick nonetheless.
Jazz is the free-wheeling, improvisatory American-born and globally embraced art form that is open to all comers, proudly interactive, full of humor and passion, operating in something of an alternative universe or society unto itself. But most people who play jazz depend on a strong social network and don’t claim they can go it alone. We at least claim to believe in a meritocracy. We know how to listen. We’re not, perhaps, the very best slice of the demographic at planning ahead, so I suppose the argument can be made that we’re not the people who should be figuring out how to reduce the federal deficit. But we know how to stretch what little money we get, and have firm faith that living well does not require mountains of moolah. Some of us are religious (including Muslims, Jews, maybe even Mormons) but most are firmly grounded in secular humanism — and we’re generally quite a tolerant tribe, eager for connections across supposed cultural divides, with few war-mongers. Do we live in a fantasy world? I think not. Which is why the majority of jazzers, I hazard to suggest without conducting or consulting any verifiable poll, are for Obama.