First Impressions From Today's White House Jazz Concert

The history of jazz in the White House got its start right in the room I stood in just hours ago. In 1962, the Paul Winter Sextet performed in the East Room at the invitation of then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Forty-seven years later, a 14-year-old pianist named Tony Madruga and his trio began this afternoon by performing for First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters sitting in the front row. This is the first of three musical events the First Lady has planned to celebrate the country's collective cultural heritage.

Ellis Marsalis.


First daughters Sasha (left) and Malia Obama sit next to their mother in the East Room of the White House. Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

In her remarks from the makeshift stage situated between massive portraits of George and Martha Washington, Mrs. Obama told the attentive students about growing up in Chicago with jazz as the soundtrack of her youth.

The White House then turned into a jazz conservatory, as over 100 students sat in the East Room, the State Dining Room and other rooms on lower floors to hear musicians like Wynton Marsalis lead workshops on various aspects of jazz history and technique.

Paquito D'Rivera (left) and Wynton Marsalis lead the White House jam session for young musicians.


Paquito D'Rivera (left) and Wynton Marsalis lead the White House jam session for young musicians. Photo Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

In the workshop I attended, Wynton, his brothers Delfeayo, Jason and Branford accompanied their father, Ellis Marsalis, in a hands-on run-through on improvisation and blues traditions. At one point, over 25 students had their turn in the spotlight as Wynton encouraged each one to walk across the stage to "run one chorus." Students, educators, Mrs. Obama and the first daughters then got a first-hand lesson in swing, improvisation and fun from saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, who joined the Madruga trio on stage.

Check this space later for possible video from the event, and listen for an upcoming report on NPR's Morning Edition.

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UPDATE: Here's the Morning Edition story.

Ellis Marsalis.


Ellis Marsalis addresses the crowd. Photo Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.