Monday, February 16, 2009

Pssst: A presidential pardon

Good morning, it's Presidents Day, a golden opportunity to write something nice about ... Richard Milhous Nixon?

Now don't throw stones at me. This is going to be OK. Don't George Washington and Abraham Lincoln get enough credit already? One's the Father of our Country, the other's The Great Emancipator. We celebrate their birthdays every year and name schools and streets after them. Both appear on U.S. currency. Their faces are chiseled into Mount Rushmore. I'm not saying they don't deserve all of this, just ...

This is a music blog, and sometimes we even discuss music. And that's exactly why, it being Presidents Day and all, it's time to give a different Commander in Chief his due.

One magical evening during the Nixon presidency was captured for all of us. It was a night when laughter filled the White House, glasses clinked to countless toasts and some of the most beloved jazz artists of the day assembled for a poignant musical tribute.

That memorable night was April 29, 1969, and the guest of honor was Duke Ellington, who was there on his 70th birthday to receive the Medal of Freedom. And he brought some players with him: pianists Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones and Billy Taylor, saxophonists Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, guitarist Jim Hall, and vocalists Joe Williams and Mary Mayo. There were others.

And the band played on. They played "Take the 'A' Train'' and "Satin Doll'' and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore'' and "In a Sentimental Mood'' and "Moon Indigo'' and many other standards and medleys. And it was grand.

And it took 33 years, but the music finally became available in 2002 with the release of "Duke Ellington 1969: All-Star White House Tribute'' on Blue Note. It's a splendid disc.

There is no 18-minute gap.

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