Jamming behind the scenes with jazz greats: Wynton and Marcus Roberts

Posted on April 1st, 2014 in TV show | Tags: 60 minutes, cbs, jamming, marcus roberts

What’s it like to hang out with jazz musicians? Just ask 60 Minutes producer David Browning, who teamed up with CBS correspondent Wynton Marsalis this week to report on the remarkable, little-known jazz pianist Marcus Roberts.

“Having a rollicking good time with jazz musicians, for me, is really, really easy,” says Browning. “I can’t think of anybody I’d rather hang out with, very frankly. They’re great conversationalists. They have tremendous senses of humor, Marcus and Wynton particularly. So for me, this was the ideal assignment.”

60 Minutes camera crews captured one of those rollicking scenes at a tiny house on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Fla., where Wynton, Marcus, and Marcus’ mother, Coretta, all joined in for an impromptu gospel jam. Then, at the neighborhood Baptist church around the corner, everyone but the cameraman took a turn pounding the keys of an out-of-tune piano.

“If there’s an instrument around, somebody’s gonna be playing it,” says Browning. “It’s their way of speaking. They literally live and breathe the music, 24/7.”

But there can be challenges to producing a piece that involves one jazz musician interviewing another jazz musician. Paige Kendig, another producer on the story, says working with jazz artists means setting your watch to something she calls “jazz time.”

“As producers, our job is to keep things really on task,” says Kendig, “but when you have two jazz musicians there, any second of downtime, there was music being played…When you’re trying to keep a time schedule, sometimes it became a little difficult.”

Kendig says the producers purposely set up one interview between the two jazz greats in a room without instruments. No piano, no trumpet. But as you’ll see in this week’s Overtime, Wynton and Marcus still found a way to kill time with a behind-the-scenes jam session.

“For jazz musicians, we come from the communities. We’re down home people,” Marsalis told 60 Minutes Overtime. “Playing is a way of life with me. Nobody has to beg me to play. I’m honored to play. Elementary schools, somebody’s house— the more informal the playing is, the better, for me.”