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President Obama Celebrates International Jazz Day At The White House

“Jazz is about coming in with an open mind."

Pete Souza // The White House

In the last few months of his presidency, President and Mrs. Obama celebrated International Jazz Day (April 30) at the White House amongst notable icons and the genre’s primetime artists. Complete with an all-star round of performances from Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy, Esperanza Spalding, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin and more of the biggest live jazz showcases in recent months.

“When it was presented to the President and Mrs. Obama, they immediately embraced the idea of doing this at the White House,” says Tom Carter, President of the Thelonious Monk Institute (the organization that runs International Jazz Day, now in its fifth year), adding, “Jazz has been a very important part of both of their lives.

“The President will tell you about his teens, when he started listening to Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and others, and how jazz has been an integral part of his life,” says Carter, “and the First Lady will tell you about her grandfather's passion for jazz, and how he exposed her as a child to this music. They've both been surrounded by jazz for most of their lives, so they jumped at the opportunity to have their friends and the artists that they follow to the White House.”

The jazz singers mostly tackled standards from their working repertory, delivering quick distillations of their personae, while Aretha Franklin complimented the set with a honorable rendition of Prince’s classic “Purple Rain.”

“Jazz is about coming in with an open mind,” adds John Beasley, the all-star concert’s musical director, of what makes the international festival special. “Getting these people from all over the world to come and play together. It gives hope that someday we really can resolve our differences. It's not just about soloing , it's about the support underneath the soloists.”

Watch the entire live special below.

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