What if improvisational jazz musicians ran the country?

Jazz drummer Dave King. Photo by Cameron Wittig.

I had an epiphany while waiting for the improvisational quartet Buffalo Collision to hit the stage at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis last week. I was all curled up in my chair reading the profile of White House Chief of Staff Rahm ‘Rahmbo’ Emanuel. Specifically, I was reading this:

At 50, Emanuel has the lean, taut look of a lifelong swimmer, with broad shoulders and distractingly prominent quadriceps. But at the heart of the Emanuel mystique is the family patois, which lurches between pronounced curtness and vivid, sometimes scatological, imagery. Emanuel will casually toss off quips like, “You’re in the bowels of nothin,’ man.” One former colleague recalls making two or three requests during a sensitive negotiation, only to have Emanuel respond: “Well, I guess if I can take care of Bill Clinton’s blow jobs, I can take care of that.”
And then there are the f-bombs, which Emanuel reels off like a verbal tic, sometimes embedding them in other words with Germanic aplomb. There is, for example, “Fucknutsville” (his pet name for Washington) and “knucklefuck” (an honorific bestowed on Republican opponents). In administration meetings, Emanuel will occasionally announce, “I think it’s fucking idiotic, but it’s your call.” (That would be Rahm-speak for: “You have more expertise than I do on this subject.”) He’s even been known to use the imprecation as a term of endearment, as when he signs off friendly phone calls: “Fuck you. See you later. I love you.” As Phil Kellam, one of Emanuel’s star recruits from the 2006 election cycle, recently joked to me, “If you could sum up Rahm Emanuel, it would be: big ideas, big mouth, big heart, little finger.” (Emanuel lost half his middle finger in a teenage accident.)

You probably read that and laughed. I did too at first. Then I just felt sad. Not lend-me-your-shoulder sad, but a kind of angry sad. Health care hadn’t passed yet and I thought to myself, “Why is it up to these knuckleheads at all?” Then I had this though: Collaboration is dead.

Five minutes into Buffalo Collision I was having a different thought: What if improvisational jazz musicians ran the country? Here these guys were, at the end of a tour that presented the same challenge every night: A crowd of people who paid to hear good music and a band with absolutely no idea what they were going to play. And they were killing it. Chaos turned to melody and back again. Over and over again they wandered into the abyss and then rose from it. In Washington it seems like it’s all abyss. Even today.

It was the first act of a two-night improvisational jazz circus at the Walker. The beloved drummer Dave King (you might know him from his band The Bad Plus) as the ringleader. King stormed and smiled his way through performances with six bands. Reach across the aisle indeed.

Sure we got health care passed without the jazz cats in office, but nobody was smiling and there was no music at all. It was all iron fists clanging in Fucknutsville and that song is far from over. Whatever happens next—immigration, the war, whatever—I’m going to be wherever Dave King is at. Let me know how it all turns out.  

–Jeff Severns Guntzel

Oh, and if you’re the kind of person who would sit through an hour+ interview with a jazz drummer (I am!), here’s some Dave King in a chair for you, courtesy of the Walker Channel: