Column: Lifelong lessons gleaned through study of jazz music


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Two of my main passions — in work as well as in the rest of my life — are jazz and the Constitution, which interact.

Jazz, banned by Hitler and Stalin, is America’s great contribution of free expression globally, and as Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once told me, “The First Amendment’s freedom of speech protects all the rest of our liberties.”

I’ve been writing about jazz for more than 60 years while getting to know many of the musicians personally. One of them, Ben Webster, was Duke Ellington’s powerfully swinging tenor saxophonist and also a romantically tender balladeer. After he left Duke to become a leader, Ben worked the nation with his own rhythm section. But when club owners wouldn’t pay for extra personnel, Ben had to depend on local swingers — if they knew how to groove.

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