Last night I got rebaptised in the Jazz gospel, by my old jazz instructor Herb Smith. When it comes to classical I have been around some prominently trained musicians, but my jazz experience has been pretty humble. I really got into jazz at Spelman, a little school in Atlanta. After a horrific experience at Spelman where my intellect or political views were not accepted (note to all: being a militant right wing republican on a black campus is a really bad idea), I continued to play at Northern Virginia Community College.
Being the elitist academic that I am, going to community college was perhaps the most embarrassing moment in my life. I’m not going to lie I was mortified at going to a community college. Where I come from, (and this not true for every community college) only pot heads go to community college, not honors students who listen to classical music. I did not give up my youth in favor of academics to go to a school full of pot heads.
Luckily for me I found jazz and strangely I have learned to embrace drug users of all kinds. Like the Statue of Liberty, I now can say, “Give me your pot heads, your junkies and pill poppers, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my trumpet beside the golden door of jazz!” LOL. But I digress….as usual….
I do agree with Wynton about one thing Jazz is so much like true democracy. However, where we differ is where the roots of jazz come from and the reason for this is Herb Smith. Again I met Herb 10 very long years ago when I was 19, before I had two kiddies and a soon-to-be ex husband. In fact before last night I hadn’t seen Herb in 10 years, because once I met my husband at said community college I pretty much left jazz behind because it was causing too much trouble in the relationship. Well the hubby is gone so jazz is back. I should have known it wasn’t going to work from the start, I wanted to be a female Miles Davis he wanted me to be a black Donna Reed. Clearly a conflict of interest that came to horrible head this year. C’est la vie.
As I have been going through this horrible divorce, jazz continues to sooth me, which is why I sought out Herb after so many years. During my 10 year marriage I lost a piece of my soul trying to be something I wasn’t for man that couldn’t appreciate or accept all that I am anyway :_( So instead of doing the whole Waiting to Exhale crying in the corner thing, I figure I would go find Herb and just start playing again since he was was the first one to baptize me in the jazz gospel.
You see Herb was the first one to explain to me 10 years ago that jazz is a religion and I have never forgot it. That man ruined me for all other jazz instructors because he embodies the spirit of what jazz means to me. I have come to realize after several months on this forum and kicking it with Herb last night, that you cannot control what people think about jazz, because again jazz is a lifestyle and an experience. Herb explained to the class that you have to walk like the jazz greats and be around them to truly understand the music. I asked him what should I do to get better at theory and he said just come around, that I don’t need a book. He told me to be patient and trust my ear. As a classically trained musician that was the most liberating advice I had ever gotten, because you don’t trust your ear when it comes to classical, you trust your eyes. There are no room for mistakes in classical, while Herb said don’t be scared to make mistakes just keep trying to you get it right. Jazz has something that classical music doesn’t have, which is GRACE.
Then he spent 2 hours lecturing a class of predominately white students about how jazz is language and you have to feel the music and not over intellectualize it. He explained that Miles never liked being asked questions by band members but kept telling them to listen and find their own voice. Then Herb went off and started cussing at the class about how screwed up this country is and how we are living in dangerous times. Only if you have watched a Bernie Mac film can you appreciate how Herb behaves. People on this forum continue to negate the fact that black people have their own culture and voice that is distinct from white American culture. But like the Washington Post, “if you don’t get it, ya don’t get it.”
I have to admit I am SO old school when it comes to jazz. In fact Herb watched me play for the first in long time last night and said” you look just like Miles when you play.” Normally I would just blow comments like that off, but Herb has actually played with Miles and still talks to his kids, so I was really flattered. Plus I think Herb is an old jazz journey man looking to pass off his knowledge about jazz to someone he can trust. In African culture, legacy is built through the spoken word not written language. This is not unlike what the Bible says about “life and death lie in the power of the tongue.” Herb spoke so much life into me when he said “you are Miles, you are Sarah Vaughn” and I don’t think he meant musically necessarily but that I as an African American embodied the struggle and experiences that shaped these jazz greats. I don’t know about white culture, but in black culture it gives a person a sense of pride when someone says “you look just like your mama” because it means the power of a person’s countenance has been passed on to you.
With that in mind, I don’t care what anybody says black people need jazz now more than ever. Herb echoed what another great jazz artist told me this year, just because its music doesn’t mean its quality. This other jazz artist said “people go eat at McDonald’s every day, but that doesn’t mean they are eating quality food. Yeah its good but it will kill you if you eat too much.” I didn’t understand it at first because the brother is so deep sometimes it takes me a while for my brain to catch up. He was so right, once you get a steady diet of some good jazz it is amazing how your whole soul throws up at the thought of listening to another dumb pop or hip hop song. Case and point before spending time with Herb last night I loved the new Beyonce song “If I was a boy” but then after playing jazz with Herb, I all of sudden realized how dumb that song is. One night in the presence of a jazz great and my who conscience was seriously raised. With the average IQ of black Americans being 80, I think jazz is what needs to be prescribed for my people or else we will be relegated to a Pootie Tang existence say “Waditai my dimee damies”. PLEASE JAZZ SAVE MY PEOPLE FROM THEMSELVES !!!! ROFL.
But to be fair, I LOVE QUALITY MUSIC but I have to find balance though. Otherwise I will lock myself in my house and refuse to be sociable. I am already a pariah as it is in my family because I refuse to listen to Smooth Jazz 105.9 or really bad Gospel. I seriously can not go on road trips with them, because the music they listen to is SO bad. Wynton may be moving to a higher ground, but I am trying to find a middle ground. Herb even agreed that Wynton while an excellent musician and jazz technician, he is simply not innovative, because he is not connected to the roots of jazz. I love Wynton, but seriously a blues album with Willie Nelson ?!! That should tell you right there that the black community has gone a little OJ Simpson on Wynton pre-Johnnie Cochran and the glove. Last I checked B.B. King is still a live. I still don’t get the rationale on why he choose a white country singer to do a blues album.
The University of Virgina
Dr Wahoo said “that Wynton while an excellent musician and jazz technician, he is simply not innovative, because he is not connected to the roots of jazz.” Again, are you serious? As for not being “connnected to the roots of jazz”...what does that actually mean? Please define for us, the “roots of jazz”? Work songs, blues songs, criers selling in the markets, marching bands, vocal effects, and West AFrican drummers…? Honey, he’s done all that. Are you insinuating that because he hasn’t had a drug addiction he isn’t “real”? That because he went to college and has a father? Those are all cliches that have been proven false time and time again. As for the CD, first of all it was a live album, they didn’t plan the project, it “happened”. Second, he has performed with BB…at a blues summit for the Spring Gala a number of years back, that was where he met Willie…and Willie, played some bad ass guitar that frankly, (IMHO) was the equal if not better than everyone else there, regardless of color…and , these cats backstage, were pure love to each other…sometimes, things are just about music and playing..and it has nothing to do with race. Third, it wasn’t a “Blues” album..there are a few blueses on there, but just as many standards…the title was a marketing decision..damn girl, stop being so gullible to the proclivities of marketing!...innovation? Look, I challenge you, as a trumpet player, to transcribe some of his solos, lets see, how about Knozz Moe King from “Live at Blues Alley” to start with and see if that shit isn’t innovative…Wynton’s rhythmic and harmonic language is waaaay advanced of most trumpet players of the past 30 years…
Man you really need to chill out with this whole white vs. black music shit. It’s funny how someone like Louis Armstrong who truly had to deal with some racist shit could travel the world with a white brother, Jack Teagarden, by his side. And here you are dissing Skayne and Willie Nelson over some trivial shit.
Wynton is very much connected to the roots of jazz. He has profound respect for many of the jazz icons and has studied the works of many seasoned jazz musicians. Shit just listen to the Majesty of the Blues and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I never heard of Herb Smith but for him to say that Wynton’s lack of innovation is do to the fact he is not connected to the roots of jazz is simply absurd. I’m a huge fan of Miles myself when did Herb play with him? On which album? I really want to learn more about this cat. Thanks Miss N.W.A
I am gonna tell you something, Dr. Wahoo. The many levels that Wynton works on transcend technique, sound, politics, and whatever is tangible. Jazz is a religion, you say? The power of the spirit that is expressed in Wynton’s music is great. It is a great great thing which heals and deals in pure expression and is often felt as the very substance of love. Todd Barkan always says, “Take care of the music and the music will take care of you”.
Perhaps that’s why you keep writing on Wynton’s site.
It is healing you.
As for Herb Smith, he’s a trumpet played from Rochester, NY. He teaches at the Eastman School and plays with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. There is a clip on youtube of Wynton and Herb playing at the Roch Jazz Fest from June, 2007. It is called:
Wynton Marsalis and Herb Smith trading on “Straight no Chase
Herb played great with Wynton that night, but he rarely gets the chance to play like that in the RPO.
> Look, I challenge you, as a trumpet player, to transcribe
> some of his solos, lets see, how about Knozz Moe
> King from “Live at Blues Alley” to start with and
> see if that shit isn’t innovative…
Drwahoo, after you transcibe that solo can you send me a copy? Thanks!
I love you all, lol. It is NOT white VERSUS black. It is black WITH white.
Herb Smith is not a trumpet player. He is a old black guy from Memphis who plays woodwinds. That was his perspective about Wynton, not necessarily mine. I am sure if you talked to alot of old time jazz musicians they would agree with Herb. But I am willing to keep an open mind about Wynton.
As for Wynton being connected to the roots of jazz….uhmm he was originally a classically trained musician from an upper middle class background. I highly doubt his parents would allow him to listen to low class music like gospel or old negro spirituals. In fact alot people like me who grew up listening to Wynton as a classical player prefer his classical music to jazz. Look if you are looking for a “yes, WOman” I am not the one. My mama always said “tell the truth shame the devil” or more eloquently put “open rebuke is better than secret love”.
Everyone has their own personal preferences and I don’t in general like Wynton’s jazz playing, because I am a huge fan of Miles Davis and PREFER his style. I don’t even really like be-bop because I prefer more melodic and lyric types of jazz. Be-bop though very impressive technical wise, is like a wordy paragraph to me. Like Herb explained to me, your horn is an extension of who you are and you speak through it. So as for Knozz Moe
King from “Live at Blues Alley”, how about I just send you a CD of my 3 year old son playing my trumpet it would sound about the same. Just because someone is playing a bunch of notes doesn’t mean that he is talking in a language that others can others can understand or appreciate. It is like speaking GRE words to high school students. So let’s be clear I have no desire to play like Wynton Marsalis what’s so ever when it comes to jazz, because I don’t want to play in a concert hall. Jazz is the people’s music, I rebel against the bourgeoisie when it comes to culture. I think jazz should remain accessible to people of all socioeconomic statuses.
The University of Virgina
Dr. Wahoo, you talk in nonsensical terms…my statement about Knozz was in regards to your statement on innovation, and you completely “Bushed” (dodged) my assertion that Wynton has been innovative in terms of trumpet vocabulary…my challenge was that you don’t have what it takes to make any serious musical statements on a more than cursory level. Your inability to make any indepth analysis of his playing undermines your credibility as a serious scholar of music. (There is very little bbe bop in that solo BTW…)
“Jazz is the people’s music, I rebel against the bourgeoisie when it comes to culture. I think jazz should remain accessible to people of all socioeconomic statuses.” You’re completely disregarding 2 issues here. The first being that Wynton plays out with “the people” all the time, he spends more time sitting in at clubs than any musician I know…and not getting paid for it, second, your idol, Miles, sure did play a lot of bourgeoisie concert venues throughout his career, especially eschewing the “clubs” towards the end of his life…
“he was originally a classically trained musician from an upper middle class background. I highly doubt his parents would allow him to listen to low class music like gospel or old negro spirituals.” Here I have to say you’re completely out of your mind…you have absolutely no basis in fact for this statement other than your prejudicial assumption that because he played classical music he must have a certain type of upbringing…wow, you’re so obtuse and frankly on the verge of your own type of socioeconomic bigotry that I’m at a loss for words…you assert that you are an elitist academic with very high standards, trained more in classical music, yet you equate “real” jazz with a certain type of more “natural soulfulness” that is not equated with academic intellect. That jazz should have struggle and hardship, it should come from the streets…huh? Wow. Unbelievable…a few names you should learn…Jellyroll Morton, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Monk, Dizzy, Bird, Coltrane, these men (among many, many others) were GREAT intellectuals who studied and learned and had incredibly high elitist standards and (now this is important) WANTED to be recognized as such by American culture. To disavow the idea of the “Noble Savage” and establish jazz as a fine art….have you ever spoken with any of these men? Or anyone who knew them? Again, your own prejudice and almost sociopathic denial of reality is blinding you from understanding the reality of this music…
My good DR, do you live in NYC? Please let me take you to lunch someday, I would love the opportunity to explain to you how this shit actually is…
DrWahoo said, “As for Wynton being connected to the roots of jazz….uhmm he was originally a classically trained musician from an upper middle class background.”
And Miles wasn’t? Do you know ANYTHING about the way Miles was brought up? OMFG, I’ve never heard someone with so many unsubstantiated opinions.
Please oh please research just a tiny bit about how Wynton grew up. PLEASE!
Also, if you’re not a fan of Wynton then please PLEASE stop posting on his fan club website.
You know, people that thrive on this kind of drama and controversy are obviously in a desperate situation. They are trying to distract themselves from something they can’t deal with. Maybe you’d be a happier person if you just dealt with your personal problems.
I am suprised that i dont see more white jazz musicians in Rochester asking Herb to play with them at special clinics, events the strath whats up with that????
As another student of the reed-playing Herb Smith (who didn’t look terribly white, and didn’t take out a trumpet in the five years I hung around), he had a generally high opinion of Wynton, enough to reccommend that another student and I take some friends to go see Wynton’s septet gig out at Wolf Trap. It was fantastic.
Later, another of Herb’s students told me that, in addition to Paul Pieper, Ericka Ovette, and Eva Cassidy, Herb once taught Dan LaMaestra, who toured with Wynton on bass for a bit. So he can’t have hated the man too much.
In fact, when I was lucky enough to travel to New Orleans, Herb recommended I keep an eye out for Ellis Marsalis, and I was lucky enough to catch another great evening of music that both spoke to me and amazed me. So the rivalry can’t have been insurmountable.
But jazz is about conversation and improvisation; about challenge, about differences of identity, and about the search for common ground—not just historically, but personally, in the moment, with whoever is involved in a conversation. So if someone criticized Wynton’s choice to make an album with Willie Nelson over a hypothetical option to record with the late, great B.B. King (who was busy paying his own rent by re-recording squeaky clean versions of his back catalog with Eric Clapton around that time), then I could see Herb taking a good-natured swing at Wynton. I’m sure if Wynton Marsalis had been there for that conversation, he’d have come right back, in his mild way, swinging, and either explained the importance he saw in integrating jazz with Willie Nelson’s twangy talking-over-a-guitar thing, or played something deep enough to reaffirm the roots of his own identity.
Jazz is about conversation, about equality, and about the freedom to speak, limited only by ability and desire. It’s the quintessential American art form. Part of that art form includes posturing and gerrymandering the artistic landscape, and being ready to strive, toe-to-toe, with the masters. I don’t think Wynton would be anything but pleased to hear somebody challenge him to innovate in a new direction. But if you’re ready to be the female Miles Davis, as a fellow Northern Virginian, I’d love to hear some of your work.
Miles, at Newport, in 1958, paid tribute to Duke Ellington by playing a full set of new originals. Perhaps you could pay tribute to Wynton in the same spirit. Heck, if you’re ever out in Indy, I’ll help you record it.