By William H. Benson

Riff and parade


“Life is a lot like jazz,” said George Gershwin. “It is best when you improvise.”

During the 2004 political debates, the radio host Don Imus described the two vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and John Edwards as “Dr. Doom and the Breck Girl,” because Cheney appeared glum, dour, like a bulldog, whereas Edwards appeared well coiffed, “like a pretty girl in a shampoo ad.”

A journalist in Florida named Roy Peter Clark then riffed on Don Imus’s comment. Riff is a jazz term that describes improvisation, when one musician borrows and builds on the musical phrase of anothe...

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