WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Of the many things for which president George W. Bush has become famous -- his penchant for cowboy hats, his love of Texas, his plainspoken style -- an appreciation for the velvet tones of an Ella Fitzgerald, jazz standard is not one of them.
Yet on Wednesday night, the sultry voice of Teodora Enache, one of Romania's jazz phenomena, became a vessel through which the Bush administration quietly hopes to strengthen its diplomatic ties and improve its public image with allies abroad.
The intimate lounge of Ellington's on Eighth, a cozy jazz joint located in the rapidly developing (and rapidly gentrifying) Eastern Market area of Washington D.C.'s Capitol Hill was the spot where Enache's rich renditions of such jazz standards as, "Autumn Leaves," "How High The Moon," and "Route 66" let patrons know that "Madame Ella" still reigns as far as Bucharest, Romania's capital city.
Annette Martin, co-owner of Ellington's, seemed pleased by the turnout. By the time Enache let fly her first velvet stanzas, the plush chairs were filled by a crowd that, in addition to local patrons, included State Department officials, translators, two Romanian town politicians, and a Romanian civic activist.
"We love to have local people come in to showcase their talent," Martin told United Press International.
Enache of course, is anything but local. Along with her Romanian compatriots, she is one of the thousands of political activists, artists, and musicians tapped by the State Department to visit the United States through the International Visitor Leadership Program.
The Visitor's Program is one vehicle through which the State Department facilitates interaction, social, and professional exchanges between foreign, future political and cultural leaders and their U.S. counterparts over the course of several weeks.
The program is also becoming a major tool of U.S. public diplomacy.
When the staff of United States Ambassador to Romania, Jack Dyer Crouch II, chose Enache as one of its cultural and artistic ambassadors, they chose well -- if for nothing else than her consuming love of jazz.
"I heard jazz for the first time in Romania, and had to drop everything," the 37 year-old singer told United Press International, referring to the time when at 22 she abandoned her position as a high-school mathematics professor to pursue one of the United States' most significant cultural exports.
"I didn't have any training -- I heard Ella (Fitzgerald), Sarah (Vaughan), (Louis) Armstrong -- and I realized what a big jungle I was in and (how much) I needed to learn."
Apparently, Enache had more than a passing talent for the complex phrasing and emotional depth required by even the simplest jazz standards.
Since she began performing in the early nineties, Enache has reaped the benefit of increasingly vibrant jazz communities in western and eastern Europe, claiming top prizes in international jazz festivals in Romania, Germany, and Hungary.
In the United States, she has performed with such modern jazz greats as five-time Grammy-winning guitarist, Les Paul at New York's Iridium Jazz Club, the equally acclaimed guitarist, Stanley Jordan at New York's Decade Club, saxophonist and band-leader Rick Condit in New Orleans, and with bop-trombonist Curtis Fuller at Washington D.C.'s Blue's Alley.
Enache's most recent trip to the United States, which came at the invitation of the State Department, began on Nov. 13 and will continue until Dec. 4. The State Department notes that the International Visitor Leadership Program is designed for international educational and cultural exchange, and not for any promotional, commercial, or business activity by any artist who participates in the program.
Enache seemed to accept her diplomatic role wholeheartedly. When asked why she had agreed to accept the State Department's invitation, her response was characteristically soft-spoken but direct: "I want to build a bridge between American and Romanian jazz musicians."
Before she leaves, she will have made stops at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in Florida, and attended various artistic and cultural exchanges in Chicago, Memphis, and New York City. She is also hoping to invite American jazz musicians to perform in Romania.
Nor are the State Department's Wednesday-night, diplomacy efforts lost on Ms. Enache's colleague, Marian Daragiu. Also a participant in the Visitor's Program, Daragiu is president of Ruhama ("Empathy"), a non-governmental organization devoted to the development of civic and social associations in Romania.
"The United States is the house of democracy," Daragiu told United Press International as Enache finished her set.
"We have the models of civic and community institutions (in Romania) but (until now) I have never seen the models in practice. The program gives me the opportunity to see both the advantages of the NGO sector and what doesn't work. My job is to return with the model and adapt it to our reality."
More importantly perhaps, Daragiu's time with the Visitor's Program seems to have given him a stronger sense of the idealism underscoring United States policy -- an idealism that has been obscured by some of the Bush administration's failures in public diplomacy since 9-11.
"It is an honor to see that the United States pays attention to us and is concerned about what we do (in Romania). It is about self-respect, and respect for our perspective also."
If the Bush administration can manage to transmit this message to estranged allies throughout the rest of the world, the major challenges facing President Bush during his second term are already half won.