The Gumbo Party
After the concert, we went to Winni’s House (see pictures in the “Santa Barbara in Pictures” post). We arrived shortly after 11. And I didn’t leave until 3:00 AM. The highlight of the night was Winni’s award winning gumbo. Watch out, Emeril. Watch out, New Orleans. This gumbo was spicey and saucey. It had that twang, a mixture of any good jazz dish.
The Santa Barbara elite seemed to be everywhere. I was engaged in a discussion with my friend Jim Baehr about how to improve Dartmouth College, our alma mater. The Chancellor of UCSB walked over to us and opined. A Cornell graduate, he was eager to talk about his college days and Dartmouth professors who were now teaching at UCSB.
Winni welcomed everyone to the house and introduced Wynton. Info packets on the new building for J@LC were distributed in case folks wanted to donate to the cause. Wynton gave an eloquent speech. I was taking mental notes — he speaks like he plays, weaving themes in and out with delicate grace. Sometimes you think, “Where is he going?” And even if he doesn’t make sense, you know it’s something profound because Wynton, after all, is one of the most well-read persons I know. Wynton talked about what he and J@LC are trying to do…“Change the American Paradigm.” Instead of the American culture that foreign cultures perceive us to be — rude, crass, fiery, somewhat pornographic — we need to get back to our roots. And jazz allows us to celebrate our American heritage. Wynton commented on Dvorak, American Totality, Ellington, Gershwin, a montage of brain droppings which formed a coherent whole.
The Quintet performed sans Carlos who didn’t have his bass handy. E. Lewis played the bass parts on the piano. Ali stole the show with his solo. He played the entire solo on the high hat. I call it CPS (Clicks Per Second). He had like 7 to 10 clicks on the high hat each second (unofficial study). While the group was trading fours, Ali played one of his four measures on his sticks — YES, his sticks! One observer yelled “show off!”
People drifted after the performance. Jim and I walked around the house and talked with bandmembers, the youngsters, and the waitresses. It was quite bizarre: all the waitresses were models, or model calibur. You wanted a second and third serving of gumbo, even if your stomach said no. Jim and I got into a discussion on absolute morality versus relative (could we be more asexual?). We sat at the kitchen table with Wynton while he sipped a burgundy colored drink.
Wynton said, “The first thing Jesus said is that we don’t know.” How do we know what is absolute? While talking about the war in Iraq, he said, “localize the stuff.” In other words, imagine your brother was killed or some other country was bombing your neighborhood. Imagine your father was in Abu Gharib…there’s nothing good about that. Don’t judge it, just observe what we’re doing in the world. The discussion was highly intellectual. Wynton resolved that we “as students, shouldn’t speculate, but should apply.” He gave the example of how kids in his class in Juliard reference Hip Hop as a musical influence. Then he asks them to play it; they proceed to play a jazzy penatonic scale. Is that it? That’s all the influence of hip hop you can show me….a penatonic scale? It’s easy to theorize, but we must apply.
We talked with Wynton for thirty solid minutes and by that time it was two in the morning. The audience was thinning out like hair on an old man’s head. Who was left? The Quintet, the waitresses, and Jim and me. Someone was going to be voted off the island…just kidding.
Wynton doesn’t stop. At two o’clock he declared: “We want to play for you again.” So, the band played. Jim and I sat on the stairs and listened. The waitresses sat together on the couch and fawned over every utterance of Wynton and the band. It was better than a TV studio audience. “Ohhh….Mmmmm…….I love you………”
The Quintet started with a rendition of “I takes my time.” Wynton sang a verse but I thought Walter had the line of the night: “I might be a man of few words, but I’ll send chills up and down your spine!” There were many inuendos and allusions — but it was done with class and reverence that only that suave Wynton Marsalis can supply. The fire lit the fireplace and the living room with a glow that only made Marsalis’s shadow longer.
Top Professor E. Lewis sang “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” He looked like a kid who couldn’t stop smiling. That round voice, like a kid opening up presents on Christmas Day. After Wynton was finished with his burgundy colored drink, he used it as a mute.
I’m not doing justice to the evening in this description, for words can never relate the total experience just like a picture only tells a portion of the story. So if I can say anything about the evening, let it be that we should be passionate about what we do. Wynton went to bed at 4 AM (did he go to bed?) and awoke at 6 AM to attend Ray Charles’s funeral. He doesn’t have to play another set. But he does because he loves it. And that’s why we love him.
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