Read the following quotes by John F. Kennedy and Wynton Marsalis. On a separate piece of paper describe how each of the speakers uses a historical context to describe the inclusive possibilities for America’s future. How, in Kennedy’s words, is a conquest of “ignorance and prejudice” similar to the experiences of pioneers during America’s westward expansion in the 19th century. What does Marsalis mean when he says that the dedication of great jazz musicians “gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself”? Do you find common themes in the visions of John F. Kennedy and Wynton Marsalis? If so, please describe what these common themes are. If not, describe how you see these visions as different.
Address of Senator John F. Kennedy accepting the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency of the United States; Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, July 15, 1960:
For I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, the prisoners of their own price tags. Their motto was not “every man for himself”—but “all for the common cause.” They were determined to make that new world strong and free, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from without and within.
Today some would say that those struggles are all over—that all the horizons have been explored—that all the battles have been won—that there is no longer an American frontier.
But I trust that no one in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won—and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s—a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils—a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.
Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook—it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.
But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric—and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party.
From the book Jazz: A History of America’s Music, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns*:
Above all, as Wynton Marsalis has said, jazz offers Americans hope: “That’s the thing in jazz that got Bix Beiderbecke up out of his bed at two o’clock in the morning to pick that cornet up and practice with it into the pillow for another two or three hours. Or that would make Louis Armstrong travel around the world for fifty years nonstop, just get up out of his sickbed, crawl up on the bandstand, and play. The thing that would make Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker—any of these people that we’ve heard about, all these wonderful people—give their lives. And they did give their lives for it, because it gives us a glimpse into what America is going to be when it becomes itself. And this music tells you that it will become itself. And when you get a taste of that, there’s just nothing else you’re going to taste that’s this sweet. That’s a sweet taste, man.”
*Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Jazz: A History of America’s Music
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)