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Jazz, Senate, and Working Together

By Kim Knox

The Senate is the ultimate men's club.

— Anonymous

In America, any boy can become president.

— Adlai Stevenson

Put it this way: Jazz is a good barometer of freedom…. In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that man people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.

— Duke Ellington

Just a reminder that the 2nd Annual SF Political Trivia Contest will be held on Wednesday, March 2, 8-10 p.m. at Dylan's, 2301 Folsom (@ 19th Street).

MCs include Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly; School Board Commissioners Sarah Lipson, Mark Sanchez, and Eric Mar; activists Michael Goldstein, Calvin Welch, and Lisa Feldstein; playwright Terry Baum; and others. The categories will include Famous San Franciscans, SF Landmarks, LBGT, Political Scandals, and others.

This event is free — but the purpose is to encourage you to register as an absentee voter. For more information, email list@marksanchez.org or call (415) 290-2708.


I've been going to "Jazz Conversations and Listening Party" with jazz musician Marcus Shelby at Cafe Royale, 800 Post (Leavenworth).

We have listened to Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Chick Webb, Charles Mingus, Ahmad Jamal, and Miles Davis. Throughout the wonderful series, Shelby has hammered home the point that every musician has to bring his/her own individuality to the music and yet use that individuality to support the entire ensemble. "Jazz is a dialog," Shelby said.

We learned that there is a cycle: young musicians learn from the masters — and then create their own voice and become jazz masters themselves. We listened as musicians first followed an idol, then improved the standard rendition of a song, and finally created their own music.

Those words came back to me as I read Nine and Counting by Catherine Whitney.

The book is about the nine women who served in the U.S. Senate in 2000.

In 1992, four women (all Democrats) were elected to the Senate. Billed as "The Year of the Women," the press made much of the fact that there were now six women in that august body. But Senator Barbara Mikulski, the first woman to serve as senator from Maryland (and the female senator with the most seniority) did something better.

When her new colleagues arrived in Washington, Mikulski invited them to her office and conducted two separate seminars to explain the complex workings of the Senate. She also gave them thick notebooks containing key details about committee assignments and procedures.

Mikulski did this for a reason — she knew that an entire senatorial career could be stymied in the early weeks of a first term if a senator failed to secure a committee assignment that could have a positive impact on her state.

Then in 1996, the Republicans took control of Congress, and tension was high both in the House and the Senate. Mikulski decided to make the first move. She created a bridge to the other side of the house and invited Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (Republican from Texas and the female senator with the second longest tenure) to lunch. They agreed that each new female senator, Democrat or Republican, would be the beneficiary of the Mikulski welcoming seminar.

They also agreed to bring all of the women senators together each month for lunch. The female senators don't vote as a bloc. Each brings her own voice and her own energy to issues that matter to her constituents. But once a month, they come together for lunch to learn from the others' experiences so that they can better represent their constituents.

Just as in jazz, there were great exemplars who came before them. But just as in jazz, each senator (and each of us) has to find an individual voice in order to truly make a difference in the world.