Writings about Music

President of the Cool

The writing below was originally a comment on an essay by Ishmael Reed titled The President of the Cool published in The New York Times on December 8, 2013. My comment was published on December 19, 2013, including being one of several NYT Picks. At some point years later, this distinction was removed for any of the chosen comments, with all 278 comments now simply listed consecutively. My original comment was considerably more detailed, edited to comply with space limitations. If and when I'm able to locate the full statement it will replace the one here.

Around the time of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and others, jazz superseded Western classical music intellectually, technically, expressively, and spiritually. This came about through a confluence of displaced ethnic groups: African Americans from Africa who became the primary improvisers of “modern” jazz, and Jewish Americans from Europe and Russia who became the primary composers and lyricists of the songs used for improvisation. There are many important exceptions to these generalities, of course. President Obama represents the best traits of both the African American and Caucasian peoples he is descended from because like Charlie Parker, Artie Shaw and Miles Davis his vision for inclusion transcends the outer physical appearance of people, including Latinos, Asians, and all others, too. Obama believes in the inner spirit and resolve of individuals to transcend particular origins of race and class, and that is the genius of both jazz and America, with a passion, determination, creativity, and intelligence so hot it must be tempered by discipline, balance, and even humor to remain way cool. This is the state of mind that effectively finds solutions to challenges similar to the way a jazz master prevails over even the most intimidating “changes.”

- Michael Robinson, December 2013, Los Angeles


© 2013 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).