September 19, 2006

The Constitutional Monarch of Swing

News out of Thailand today: an attempted coup by the military. Taking advantage of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's trip to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly, military units, under the command of Army Chief Sondhi Boonyaratkalin (and apparently acting with the approval of the king), have taken control of Bangkok.
On a television station controlled by the military, a general in civilian clothes said that a “Council of Administrative Reform,” including the military and the police, had seized power in the name of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
What's that? This is supposed to be a music blog? Well, any junta that claims to be operating in support of a composer rates a mention here. That's right, in addition to reigning as the (largely ceremonial but widely beloved) king of Thailand for the last half-century, Bhumibol Adulyadej is also a jazz saxophonist and songwriter. Here he is jamming with Benny Goodman.

King Bhumibol (who was born here in Massachusetts, by the way) has forty-some compositions to his name; his song "Blue Light" was featured in the Michael Todd-produced Broadway revue Peep Show in the 1950's. Upon ascending to the throne, the king formed his own 14-piece band and started a state-run radio station to broadcast its performances. Lionel Hampton once complimented him as "the coolest king in all the land," although, seeing as how he's the only king in all the land, it's possible that Hamp was hedging his bets a little.

I won't pretend to have an informed opinion on the Thai political situation (the brief breakdown seems to be probably-corrupt-but-rurally-supported-populist-PM vs. disenfranchised-elite-and-business-backed-disgruntled-military, with the king giving at least token support to the generals and the Thai economy on the line, which gives you an idea of the gray areas involved), but I am an expert on musician day jobs, and I'd say Bhumibol takes the prize. (If anyone's reading this in Thailand, please stay safe. Kor hai chok dee.)

Update (9/21): King Bhumibol's support for the coup is now explicit. Here's a good summary of what's been going on.

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