Dato Street Fiesta

Posted on July 27th, 2009 | 0

Wynton Marsalis, Senator Javier RojoLast week I received the gold medal of Vitoria. Iñaki told me to make sure I was on time for the ceremony. I was. For all the honors I have received, I'm always embarrassed by any official type of public recognition. When I was younger I would clown during the reading of the citation. Now, I just stand uncomfortably there. At one point I wanted to just not accept any awards, but my mentor Albert Murray said, "The ritualistic giving of awards allows a community to come together in celebration of what is significant for them. The ceremony itself, its reenactment, places present day heroes in the context of past heroism and says, 'our values still resonate in the present' which gives confidence for the future." I now accept awards graciously. The last time I had an official ceremony in Vitoria, a female journalist informed me that my pants were unzipped. That was 6 years ago and I still remember it. It's hard to quietly zip up your pants at a public ceremony.

This time, I made sure everything was tight. We arrived at the medieval center of the old city, and there were guys with green and gold embroidered, medieval guard uniforms holding formidable looking battle-axes. The mayor, Patxi Lazcoz, was young and energetic, and I had a wonderful (and beautiful) translator. This ceremony was unforced and lyrical. It was a radiant Sunday morning, and everyone was dressed up. Reminded me of the South and so many Sundays with people all dressed up with their best clothes…all colorful. We would get our clothes for the year from the Sears catalog, and you always had something for Sundays.

Gen and Stew are there. Gen is my assistant and office manager and everything. She was George Butler's secretary at Sony (when it was CBS) in the early 80's. Branford and I were 19 and 20. We used to go to the office just to see Gen. It broke our hearts when we found out she was married, but her husband, we just call him Stew, is one of the coolest people on earth. He doesn't come out that often, so to see the two of them and their two college roommates in Spain was a treat and a comforting touch of home.

Mayor Lazcoz read the citation in a warm and brisk manner. I looked at Gen for reassurance that I wasn't talking too long in accepting the award – Gen and Susan John (our director of touring at JALC), between the two of them I get a sense of when to stop. Chano then played for me an exquisite "Solea Blues". I loved the fact that he played at this. He always brings a good time with him, and when he started to play, it became a great time. This was a hip ceremony— not all stuffy. Members of city council were there. I thought about the city council of New York. I love them because they ARE the communities they represent.

We went to an outdoor reception under a tent. Very soulful. Food and drink excellent. The dedicated volunteers and hard working staff of the festival were there. There was a big Styrofoam sculpture saying ‘THANK YOU WYNTON’. I joked in my mind about how I would send a picture of that to my sons when they start telling me how I didn't do this or that. There was much lively conversation about politics, and Señor Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain (from Vitoria), won the sartorial splendor award. We joked and compared shoes, ties…it went all the way down to the cuff links. He is a very gracious and humorous man. We had a spirited repartee about American politics.

I took pictures with other recipients of the gold medal. Each one has made some important contribution to the city: Amelia Baldeon in archaeology, Eduardo Anitua in biological investigation, Joaquin Jimenez in popular and folk traditions, and Inaki and me in jazz. I was the first non-Spanish to win. Of course, with the legacy of American slavery and being from New Orleans, I might have some Spain in me.

After taking pictures with the Festival staff, a smaller group went to IKA to eat. They understand about food there. We had a lively, lively political 'discourse' over some special tuna and local rioja. The discussion got so heated at one point, I forgot I was 'company'. Senator Rojo has a passionate way of discussing the issues (something I always relish because it makes you feel alive and is real education). That was a great lunch.

As the repast ended, the Director of Protocol, Señor Gosu Alberdi (himself with a deep blue, three-button suit that he appeared to be poured into and spit-shined shoes so well polished, I checked the position of my tie in them) told me three things: – Do not misconstrue the heated nature of the debate as disrespect. – Thanks for being well dressed. – Learn more about Spanish politics.
We all laughed while acknowledging the truth in those words. Senator Rojo and I exchanged cuff links, and we all saluted each other as we went off into the late afternoon, down the glorious, sun-drenched avenues of Vitoria, well equipped to face the night.

I had to be super-organized for the next day. We were recording Chano's music, then movements 4 and 8 which would be augmented with Chano's group. The Jedi was in town and we had to adapt to a new recording environment.

Wynton