*SAMUELS: Does New York really need yet another place to hear jazz? *
MARSALIS: There are a lot of jazz clubs in New York, and we support them. But we wanted this place to embody jazz and the democratic spirit of the music. We also wanted it to help the music thrive by having an educational program. And that meant having the space to teach, to hold performances not only for seasoned artists but also for younger, upcoming artists, and a place to celebrate our elders.
*Some critics say that by paying tribute to such legends as Coltrane and Monk, you hinder the growth of new artists. *
You can’t go forward without history, and if we can’t celebrate our history and the history of the music—that’s a truly sad day. I always felt like my generation never did anything in terms of great art—or if we did, I missed it. If you look around today, there are many more students of jazz than there were in my generation.
*Do African-Americans truly appreciate this art form? *
Well, we have a pretty uncultured leadership, by and large—and that’s for all groups. But Afro-Americans don’t support the arts in general, and that’s sad. It’s been true for a long time. It’s hard to get the African-American audience out for the arts. I know, because I’m out there working with kids and trying to get them involved. I’m not in some glass tower looking down. I’m always around our people, and I see that the knowledge is not being given to make this culture ascend.
*You were very hard on hip-hop early on. *
I’m still hard, but not just on hip-hop. The entire country has been in decline in terms of the arts. A lot of what I said back then was exaggerated, because the media loves to make blacks seem like they’re downing other blacks. But, in truth, this country is known for putting a lot of trash into the world, and that’s not just hip-hop music. I hear my son’s music, and it’s stuff like “bitch” this and “n——-” that. That lingo was popular way back in the ’70s with the pimp movies, which we lapped up. But you can’t just single out hip-hop when you talk about what’s wrong with the country, and you can’t blame the kids. Short of being given rituals of initiation into adulthood—and art courses that demand engagement and development of your taste—there is nothing to do but descend.
*You’ve never had a very good relationship with some white jazz critics. What do you think they’ll think of your latest project? *
Who knows. I’m not waiting to be validated. Maybe at 20 years old I was, but not now. It’s the same ole thing with the critics. If you’re black and not bowing your head to them and their vision, then you’re too arrogant. If you Tom for them and play rock, or whatever, and make them feel comfortable in their authority—then you’re OK and you get the head rub. But I didn’t bow my head before, and I’m not going to bow now.
by Allison Samuels