Saxophonists rate Bill Clinton's musical ability -- Stanley Turrentine, David Sandborn, and others discuss the presidential candidate's performance on ''The Arsenio Hall Show''

By Ron Givens
Updated June 19, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT
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When Gov. Bill Clinton addressed the nation on The Arsenio Hall Show June 3, you might say he blew it — the tenor sax, that is. To better understand the Democratic presidential hopeful’s musical candidacy, Entertainment Weekly asked for appraisals from an all-star panel of sax players: David Sanborn, Stanley Turrentine, Phil Woods, and Jimmy Heath. This McLaughlin Group of jazzmen wasn’t afraid to take on the tough issues and deliver some tough answers:

How would you describe the Governor’s musical style?
TURRENTINE: You can stick him in the crack between jazz and rock. SANBORN: I’d call him eclectic. He seems to draw from a lot of influences, including Sonny Rollins and Curly of the Three Stooges. WOODS: He uses a reed but it’s not presidential timbre. It’s more presidential shingle.

What about his technique?
HEATH: His tone was a little harsh, but at least he has a concept of the way music should sound. I admire his courage for exposing himself. When you’re standing up and playing before an audience, you’re being scrutinized at every moment. TURRENTINE: He plays like a politician because everything was confusing. You couldn’t tell one note from the other. SANBORN: He doesn’t really play like a President. I think Lester Young — ”Pres” — had that covered. I think Clinton plays like a Governor of Arkansas.

Does he show room for improvement?
HEATH: He has some potential, but he needs some professional direction. TURRENTINE: I think he’s better off trying to obtain the presidency and then practicing on his tone. SANBORN: Tell him to keep his day job.

What about the sunglasses?
HEATH: The sunglasses are a stereotype. You don’t need sunglasses inside a building in the middle of the night. SANBORN: I think the sunglasses were a nice touch. They showed a kind of credibility.

Tips for improvement:
SANBORN: Tell him to inhale. WOODS: I think his sax soul needs some work. I think he should get with Ray Charles and get on the road. He should take a sabbatical with a band and learn how to go to the bathroom out the window of the bus at 80 miles per hour. That would help.

Is there a better show for him than Arsenio?
HEATH: He should try Face the Nation. TURRENTINE: The Gong Show. He wouldn’t last long. SANBORN: The Gong Show. I’d let him play.

What about his choice of material?
HEATH: Like a good politician, he was trying to reach a lot of people with the two tunes he did — purists with ”God Bless the Child,” which was a Billie Holiday song, and ”Heartbreak Hotel” for everyone who argues about which Elvis stamp is best. TURRENTINE: ”Heartbreak Hotel” was better because the band drowned him out more. SANBORN: I think he should add ”Whipping Post” to his repertoire, because that’s sort of what he’s been during the campaign.

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