What does Ben Carson sound like?
Not, what does his voice sound like?—the sleepy, husky tenor has become familiar to anyone who’s watched a Republican debate or three—but what would the essence of Carson’s character sound like if it were converted into song?
That’s a question that the pianist Marcus Roberts set out to answer in a new EP, Race for the White House, of four compositions devoted to the presidential election: one each for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Carson. Roberts picked out the candidates who seemed most ripe for interpretation, two from each party. He’s been rolling the tracks out slowly, and you can hear the Carson song, “I Did Chop Down That Cherry Tree” for the first time below.
What’s the point of such a project? Some reticent musicians, asked to explain their work, like to retreat behind the old aphorism that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. But converting the endless talk of a presidential campaign into instrumental jazz? That seems even crazier.
Roberts, a pianist known for his association with Wynton Marsalis, told me had two motives. One was simple: Election coverage was everywhere around him when he wrote the tunes in November, and it started to seep into his creative process. “Like everyone, I’m sure that’s all you can hear about, even now in February,” he said. “Part of it was the diversity in the different temperaments of the each candidate. Some of them are very identifiable, and I wanted to try to musically describe a little bit about each personality.”