Tuesday is Inauguration Day, and there are plenty of ways to take part locally. TeCo Theatrical Productions is hosting an Inaugural Bash at Bishop Arts Theater Center. And if you don’t feel like leaving the house, KERA (Channel 13) will broadcast the inauguration beginning at 10 a.m.
One North Texas artist has already participated in the festivities and comes home with stories to last a lifetime.
On Friday, we wrote about University of North Texas jazz saxophone professor Brad Leali heading to Washington D.C. to take part in the “We are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial” on Sunday. Leali played in the band that backed the constellation of stars that descended on the mall to pay tribute to the next president.
A day later, he is back in Denton, auditioning about 80 saxophone players for the schools jazz bands.
“It was a lot of work, but from that event, I’m still high off the music,” he said during a telephone interview on Monday. “And even coming back here and seeing my students, my students give me something else. They always make me smile, so when I see them, I’m overjoyed in another way. They rejuvenate me.”
Leali says that the crowd — estimated at several hundred thousand by the Washington Post — is easily the biggest gathering he’s ever played to. And though he had actually played with some of the artists before this week, playing with them all at the same time was a memory he’ll never forget.
“It was just incredible to have all this talent in one area. It was incredible to be sitting there with Stevie Wonder – having a jam session with him. And then Bruce Springsteen walks in and does his thing. And then Bon Jovi does his thing. And then Mary J. Blige does hers, and Herbie Hancock and Sheryl Crow and all these great musicians are just doing what they do, and that’s make music. That’s what we’re trying to teach these students. All of these etudes that we learn and all these scales that we teach and all these different lessons that we have for musical development – the bottom line is to make music. Just seeing that at that high level was overwhelming.”
Could he possibly pick a highlight from the event? In short, no. But can you blame him? When asked, he gave it a shot, but there were a trio of performances that stood out among what he says were many memorable turns.
“James Taylor sang ‘Shower the People.’ It was so beautiful when he got up there and sang that. And to see [Obama] with him as well, just laughing and clapping his hands and smiling. And even Garth Brooks. When Garth Brooks got up there with the choir and he was singing ‘American Pie’ and ‘Shout’ and ‘We Shall Be Free’ — just seeing all these people get together, those were some highlights for me. And hearing Beyonce sing ‘America the Beautiful.’ Those were some moments. And I hate to just say those three, but they really touched me.”
If you missed the broadcast on Sunday, HBO is streaming the event on its Web site. In addition to the performers Leali named, will.I.am, U2, John Mellencamp and a host of celebrities took part in the event.
Artist have often partnered up over the years to bring awareness and raise money for everything from AIDS to world hunger, Katrina to 9-11. An underlying tragedy always served to bring everyone together in a show of unity against a common enemy. In a way, Sunday’s event seemed like the flip side to those gatherings. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with the world, the performers put their troubles aside for an afternoon to sing songs of joy, fueled by the promise of a new day.