In his NJTV TV interview with Steve Adubato, Jr., Governor Chris Christie admitted something that affixes a Telecaster-boosted exclamation point on his exhaustively praised persona as combative public showman.
He doesn’t really care for jazz.
“You love jazz?” Adubato playfully prodded the governor.
“Not really,” said Christie with a half shrug. “I mean, not really. Why would I… Listen. I listen to what I listen to. I’m not a big jazz fan. I admire it as an art form, I’m not a big jazz fan. I don’t listen to it much.”
Not a big jazz fan.
Now the intricacies of personal tastes in art and music do not generally bear scrutiny in the sphere of politics. But Christie has made such a consistent public spectacle of his adoration of Bruce Springsteen – using his rock fan devotion to connect with those rhythms of daily life and struggle here – that in this case we cannot resist examining the governor’s glib dismissal of America’s classical music.
Given the tenor and tempest of his public discourse and now his pursuit of the presidency in a developing GOP Primary, it’s unsurprising that Christie has little taste for jazz.
His rhetoric has an obvious foundation in the A-D-E power chord structures of power pop music. As he built his name ID in politics, his efforts to win audiences on YouTube had the feel of someone attempting to chart-bust with each public trumpeting.
Complexity seldom occupies a place in his repertoire because complexity would not produce a monster hit.
The nationally hungry Christie’s slicing off from jazz not only separates him from some legendary artists with ties to New Jersey, among them Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans (pictured, above), Dizzy Gillespie, the Pizzarellis, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, but reveals a certain lack of cultural curiosity. The unspoken admission is that there is no problem that an amplified and irreverent power chord cannot obliterate.
But the dissonance of jazz, its complex time signatures and unpredictable phrases and its broad palette of everything from Big Band to Bossa Nova are precisely those dialogues that undergird some of the best elements of popular music, including Springsteen’s. They are unwaveringly part of that great sonic texture of New Jersey, and indeed conspire to create what complexity exists in Springsteen’s well-traveled chord forms.
Springsteen is himself deeply in the debt of fellow rock and roll hall of famers the Byrds, who relied in part on jazz artist John Coltrane for those atonal guitar licks in “Eight Miles High,” arguably the groups’ greatest moment.
The failure to hear those exchanges and inspirational ranges in the undercurrent of popular music and simply front Springsteen as the colossus of music candidly reveals why Christie has no problem amplifying his ego at the expense of profound public discourse.
Look, we get it, intellectualizing in public in our current environment is the quickest way to get voted out of office. No one wants Hamlet in a nuclear crisis. But where we are right now is that the first guy who goes out there and admits to being a fan of Chopin is committing the equivalent of political hara-kiri.
Yet here’s the heart of it: the deepest tone of jazz goes not to egotistical showmanship but to suffering. Pressed to define his art, the great Duke Ellington once described jazz – and we’re paraphrasing – as the way regular folk feel.
Often dismissed by non-jazz listeners as an elitist fancy, what some people simply seeking pleasure in music might in fact react against in jazz is that it truly attempts – like all great art forms – to give voice to human suffering. That, in the words of Leonard Bernstein, not only defines the core of jazz, but connects it to that most classic of dramatic forms: tragedy.
One of Christie’s problems is that although he comes from one of the richest and most culturally complex places on the planet, he insists on standing upon such a thin membrane of awareness about his own home state and in the tastes he chooses to transmit from this place.
We don’t object to his candid admission that he’s not a jazz fan.
But it’s hard to escape what that dismissal confirms about those voices the governor selectively hears – and does not hear.