Originally appeared in The Boston Book Review
. . . the charismatic relationship Afro-Americans have to this society can be as irresponsibly decadent as it can be high-minded, joyous, soberly critical, and cautionary. We have as much responsibility for the health of our democracy as anyone else.
"The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race, The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994"
HB: You use jazz as a metaphor for democracy in "The Skin Game."
SC: It seems to me to be an aesthetic realization of the checks and balances system, and the idea of individual contribution to mass reality. In a jazz band, you'll often have the same thing happen that happens when a person wants to convince other people that his or her policy idea should be embraced. The great bassist Ron Carter said that in a band whoever is playing the strongest idea will convince everybody else to come his way. In a sense it reflects the democratic process.
The constitutional structure is based on periodically reinterpreting the relationship that the people have to the government, to the laws, to the business sector. In a jazz band, we know the songs -- "My Funny Valentine," "Stella by Starlight," etc. -- but they are remade by improvisations improvisations. Improvisation allows you to reconsider the way you've approached something before, to see it over and over.