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Jazz Lessons from Korea to Corea: Global Aggression vs Musical Session

05/10/2013 01:09 pm ET | Updated Jul 10, 2013

Timing is everything. Hence, I plan big trips around major events. So when the perfect storm hit -- the triple threat of Gatsby mania, Bieber meltdown and Pyongyang missile menace -- I was ready. Ready to escape the chaos of Leonardo, Justin & Kim Jong, and fly off to the closest monastery. In short, to "go monk." Only I was thinking Buddhist, not Thelonious.

And then it hit me. The answer to our world madness is JAZZ. Silence is great, but in spurts. True, the cone of silence worked for Maxwell Smart, battling the forces of KAOS, but he and the Chief always returned to conversation. Just like jazz: always keep the dialogue going, through global duets, trios, quartets or big bands. Go the way of cool harmony.

But back to our friends in North Korea. The young leader, Kim Jung Un, is a restless kid getting flack from adults, improvising like a rebellious teen-ager mad at the world. So he took a jazz break, moving his Musudan missiles from launch sites, floating them from forest to field, like on a giant Korean Ouija board. The Pentagon called it a 'provocative pause.' I call it Jazz Improvisation 101.

Just like the rest of us, maybe all he needed was a time out before getting back to dialogue and global conversation. Just like jazz, when the rhythm section stops playing for a solo. Makes me think of jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Chick Corea. Yup, young naive Kim Jung Un demands a jazz solo with his own voice heard loud and strong, but he desperately needs an ensemble of collaborative musicians.

So was the North Korean missile move timed to sync up with Spring Planting; Cinco de Mayo; the Springsteen Europe tour; or Prince Harry's arrival on American soil? Was it an attempt at world harmony? Or maybe it was timed for Mother's Day -- the kinder gentler womanly influence? After all, Prez Obama just met with the new female president of South Korea, Park Geun Hye. America's got Iron Man 3, and S. Korea's got the Iron Lady of Asia.

None of the above. I say North Korea's sudden missile break goes deeper, like young lovers' heart-break, as deep as the Mississsippi Delta Blues. Methinks young Kim Jong Un has discovered American jazz, and is practicing his solo.

So listen up, Kim Jong Un. JAZZ says it all - from blues to be-bop, Basie to Billie. What better role model of world leadership than jazz music to soothe the savage beast....to influence a more zen-like way of ruling.

If you want loud and brassy, you've got Dixieland and Satchmo; for smooth and subtle, you've got Birth of the Cool Miles Davis. For global togetherness, you've got Wynton Marsalis and Quincy Jones. Jazz offers rotating soloists, sophisticated harmonies, improvisations, and mellow tones in trios and quartets. But you've got to listen to each other to make it all work:

1. Bee Bim Bop vs Be Bop
We know that bee bim bop is a succulent Korean traditional sizzling meal, but what better way is there to achieve world peace than a succulent ensemble playing bebop -- the small group can have a conversation with complex harmonies, solo improvs, and brilliant execution.

2. Seoul for Soul? Who can dispute the heart of a nation, the heartfelt melodies and soulful improvisations of Ella, Sarah, Coleman or Coltrane?

3. Kim Chee vs Kenny G - We love the luscious sensations of kim chee cooked and steaming, but it's flat without some seasoning. Serve it up with Kenny G's smooth saxophone sounds. Kenny's Chinese songs are played as trains approach at Shanghai terminals. Talk about East and West worlds colliding...or coinciding.

4. The Prince vs the Quince - And how about Quincy? Prince Kim Jong, try to keep up with the Joneses. Q blends bebop with hip hop, saluting Snoop Dogg and Sinatra, Ice T and Dizzy G. He's the mastermind behind We are the World, his huge benefit for Ethiopian famine relief. That's putting your jazz money where your mouth is. The ultimate jazz ambassador of good will, a true crown Quince.

5. Psy vs. Psychedelic Jazz - Maybe we can't help but love the insane antics of pop trailblazer, South Korean singer rapper PSY and his mega-hit Gangnam Style. Really? Why not try Psychedelic Jazz instead for the colorful, passionate performances of jazz artists seeking "the stars you can't see," like Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue; Sun Ra's Cosmic Tones; and John Coltrane's Stellar Regions. Kim Jong, you might breathe a Psy of jazzy relief.

6. Nuclearization or Improvisation - Taking a provocative pause was a genius tactic of Kim Jong Un...it bears an uncanny resemblance to the break that jazz musicians take to feature the soloist and give him room for improvisation. It's called jazz etiquette, which goes a long way towards world peace. Speaking of long way, check out Miles - that's Miles Davis - and Keith Jarrett, both icons of improv.

7. Malice vs Marsalis - Escalation vs Education
Some foreign leaders let their egos run the country. Short tempers and long fits can lead to nuclear escalation and threats. Really, guys? How about a little behavior mod. Try blending Converse and Concerts in the classroom. The best role model we've got is jazz educator, innovator Wynton Marsalis whose mottos are teamwork, collaboration, workshops, and collective resolution (are you listening, Kim Jung Un?). He loves educating kids about jazz and how it can change their lives. As Artistic Director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he's started Jazz in Schools, Middle School Jazz Academy and High School Band Competition. He's a UN Messenger of Peace, so Kim Jung Un, in the words of Dennis Rodman, "Do me a solid," and check him out!

Study his mantras: don't show off, concentrate, practice hard, be optimistic, set goals. Here's a guy who turns the chaos of city and world noise into cool swing jazz sounds, accents and rests, "choosing together to play and stay together."

8. DMZ vs JALC
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that sting. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula in half...right down the middle. It sure ain't got that swing, but it's got a definite North vs South RIFT...so how about a jazz RIFF? Check out the JALC ORCHESTRA http://jalc.org/, who 'll be touring the world from Brooklyn to Barcelona...a smashing big band that celebrates the jazz ensemble tradition, big on collaboration with orchestras from Ghana to Brazil. Instead of DMZ dividing, the JALC multiplies the magic, with its huge repertoire of masterpieces from Benny Goodman to Stan Getz -- a true merging of all musical worlds.

9. KOREA or COREA? We've got two generations: North Korea's 30-something Prez, who's a rather slippery dick. And then there's 70-something Chick. Let's get them in a room together and maybe something will STICK. Kim Il Un? Still in his adolescent phase. Chick Corea's the real deal -- an American jazz and fusion pianist, keyboard virtuoso, composer, jazz legend, whose mission is world peace: in his Grammy acceptance speech, he said, "We all have the same intention ... bringing pleasure and beauty to people all around the world."

Chick's got that global thing going, from bossa to rhumba, mixing Mozart with Moog, the classical and the synthesized. North Korea could learn some longlasting lessons from Corea, who blended Latin and Brazilian rhythms in his spacy electric piano sounds of Return to Forever. The ultimate collaboration? Korea and Corea. Hey, it could happen. Just use your Kim-agination.

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