And All That Jazz

Today we are featuring a confidential memorandum to President Bush that is being published here for the first time. It is stamped “TOP SECRET” by its author, to assure that it will be widely read, and also “EYES ONLY,” since that is the best instrument for reading it. Leaving nothing to chance, the memo’s author (referred to from now on as “this columnist”) also addressed copies to all 535 members of Congress — thus assuring it will be leaked to, and widely disseminated by, a grateful news media.

MEMO TO: President Bush

CC: Members of Congress

RE: A Pennsylvania Avenue Jazz Parade and White House Jazz Telethon to Help and Honor the Birthplace of American Jazz

Mr. President, you have made four trips to New Orleans and promised that your administration will rebuild and restore New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Congressional Republicans and Democrats have vowed much the same. While plans costing billions are being rushed into law, here is one more idea that you can do to help provide money for hundreds of thousands of people who were made homeless by the hurricane. We are not talking here about a telethon to bail out the government’s rebuilding of New Orleans’ infrastructure. This isn’t about money for bricks and steel and concrete; it is about money for people. It is an idea that has the added virtue of being virtually cost-free.

Jazz has long been an instrument of American diplomacy. Now you can lead our nation in helping to repay the gift of jazz that the city gave America and the world. You can lead a Washington celebration of our jazz heritage.

Let’s start by having an old-fashioned New Orleans-style jazz parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Invite New Orleans’ jazz musicians to parade from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, following the route you have twice taken on Inauguration Day. Invite the top jazz musicians of the nation _ no, make it from the entire world _ too. And invite members of Congress to march with them. The jazz musicians can start with a traditional New Orleans funeral dirge _ and midway down the avenue turn it into a classic smart-stepping, up-tempo Dixieland tune.

You can be waiting at home to greet the marchers when they get to your backyard gate. Invite them in, and let’s have an American jazzfest on your South Lawn. Let it be televised live _ and videotaped for rebroadcast _ and let’s use the opportunity to conduct a truly nationwide telethon. Let the musicians donate their time; let the airlines donate their airfare; let the TV networks donate their airtime. Mainly, let Americans _ indeed, a whole world of viewers _ donate grandly as we celebrate the gift of jazz that New Orleans gave us all. (You’ll be following a fine tradition; President Jimmy Carter hosted a famous jazz concert on the South Lawn, and presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton brought jazz into the White House.)

Tell your staff I’ve done their preliminary research: Many of America’s most famous jazz musicians will be happy and honored to help. I know because I was driving to a Washington TV studio to do one of those talking-head-punditry gigs, and trying to think of something original to talk about when I came up with this idea. The world-famous jazz drummer Thelonious Monk Jr. happened to be there to plug the international jazz competition named after his legendary father. So I invited him to sit in on my punditry gig and let him take a solo. After laying out my idea, I asked him what he thought of it.

“I think it’s marvelous,” Monk said. “I think the jazz community … which is international in its scope, would be delighted to have some opportunity to really contribute to the reconstruction of a city that represents a major piece of American culture.”

Monk said he’s spoken with many jazz musicians who wanted to do something to help, but felt there was no one to lead them. So it is, Mr. President, that a Crawford rancher whose musical taste never strayed far from the Texas two-step may be just right as the new leader of America’s jazz musicians.

“I think that the president is the appropriate person to lead this kind of event,” Monk said. “Not only is it money for the people, it’s inspiration in that we are telling people that their culture is an important part of Americana. And we need it. And we want it. And we have to regrow it. (This) idea is a wonderful way to begin the process.”

Now’s the time.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)