"It (jazz) can be heard on the Scottish bagpipe, on the Indian sitar. It opened up new exchanges with classical music, and with Eastern music and it can make the oldest folk songs sound new," Obama said at the White House Jazz festival.

Obama said from humble origins as the music of the black working class -- largely invisible to the mainstream – it went on to become America's most significant artistic contribution to the world.

"Jazz took shape in that most American of cities, New Orleans, where the rich blend of Spanish, French, Creole, and other influences sparked an innovative new sound," he said. "By the early 20th century, you could walk down the street of the infamous Storyville district and -- maybe as you tried to stay out of trouble -- hear the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and, of course, Louis Armstrong," he added.

Over the years, the sound travelled and changed – hot jazz, swing, bebop, Latin, fusion, and experiments that defied labels. But its essence has always remained the same, the President noted.

"Jazz is perhaps the most honest reflection of who we are as a nation. Because after all, has there ever been any greater improvisation than America itself?  We do it in our own way.

"We move forward even when the road ahead is uncertain, stubbornly insistent that we'll get to somewhere better, and confident that we've got all the right notes up our sleeve," he said.

"And that's what's attracted a global audience to this music. It speaks to something universal about humanity – the restlessness that stirs in every soul, the desire to create with no boundaries," he said.

"Jazz is a good barometer of freedom," Duke Ellington once said. No wonder it has such an outsized imprint on the DNA of global music. It has spread like wildfire across the world, from Africa to Asia.

"And jazz blended with the bossa nova of Brazil or the tango of Argentina -- which, from here on out, I will endeavour to appreciate as a listener and observer, rather than as a dancer," Obama said.

Obama and the First Lady hosted a jazz concert in a large temporary building on the South Lawn for about 550 invited guests to mark International Jazz Day.

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