A NIGHT OUT WITH: Wynton Marsalis; A Trumpeter, His Tie and Friends Who Love to Hang
THE trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who on Monday night was due at a party downtown, at a dinner Midtown and at a jam session in Harlem, keeps a frenetic schedule befitting a political candidate. But, said Mr. Marsalis, who has three sons by two former girlfriends, he would never be able to run for office.
‘‘As soon as I did, they’d say, ‘Wynton, didn’t you . . .?’ And I’d have to admit that, yes, I did. And then they’d say, ‘And didn’t you . . .?’ And I’d have to say, ‘Yes, I did — and I enjoyed it, too.’ ‘’
Mr. Marsalis lives fast, has a fast tongue and is intent on leaving a good impression, as if he were afraid that if he slowed down, or was less perfect, someone would come along and take it all away. He juggles touring with his 15-member jazz orchestra, performances with his quartet, recording dates, Jazz at Lincoln Center (where he is the artistic director), television appearances and teaching a handful of Juilliard students jazz trumpet. Oh, and he composes.
On Monday night, Mr. Marsalis, just back from New Hampshire with his orchestra and about to leave for a monthlong tour of Japan, had landed in his well-appointed 29th-floor apartment near Lincoln Center to a full house. In the foyer sat Mizz Alice (Alice B. McKay), who was visiting him from his hometown, New Orleans. In the living room were four guests from Oregon; in the foyer was Ashley Schiff, whose mother, Lisa Schiff, is chairman of Jazz at Lincoln Center. And in the walk-in closet was Mr. Marsalis, 40, ironing his tie.
Mr. Marsalis has firm beliefs about fashion, and stronger feelings about ironing. ‘‘You don’t iron ties flat,’‘ he said. ‘‘There’s got to be a roll on the edge, just like on the lapel.’‘
Ms. Schiff entered his sanctum and, using the stern voice she developed working as a publicist, told him he had to speed things up if he was going to stay on schedule. Ms. Schiff and Mr. Marsalis became pals in Buenos Aires five years ago when she was playing polo there and he was performing with his orchestra. She got to know the band by playing basketball with them.
These days, between looking for a job and flying to South Carolina on weekends to play polo, Ms. Schiff devotes herself pro bono to promoting jazz. At times this requires her to keep the often tardy Mr. Marsalis on time, and to prep him, even for a planned encounter with one of his best friends, like the actor Courtney B. Vance. ‘‘BET is going to be following Courtney around tonight,’‘ she advised, ‘‘and they’d like you to say something, so be nice.’‘
A Town Car was waiting to whisk Mr. Marsalis and his horn to the Cutting Room on West 24th Street, where friends like Mr. Vance, the newscaster Deborah Roberts and the saxophonist Ornette Coleman were celebrating the CD release of ‘‘All Rise,’‘ a jazz symphony Mr. Marsalis composed.
Half an hour late, Mr. Marsalis swept into the club greeting people with handshakes, soul clasps, knuckle bumps and hey-heys! while the music from the album played in the background. Mr. Marsalis says ‘‘Let’s go play’‘ the way other people say ‘‘Let’s have a drink.’‘
Dianne Reeves joined him and his quartet on a cramped stage in the back room to perform ‘‘My Sweet Embraceable You’‘ and other tunes. Duty done, Mr. Marsalis wended his way out of the party and, still carrying his horn case, got into the car to have dinner at Sushi Den; a wagon train of friends followed.
Jazz musicians who tour Japan become sushi connoisseurs. Mr. Marsalis and Hughlyn F. Fierce, the new head of Jazz at Lincoln Center, teased Ms. Schiff for sticking with California roll. ‘‘Try the eel,’‘ Mr. Fierce urged.
Over raw tuna, the subject of chitterlings came up. ‘‘We’ve had many debates about chitterlings in the band,’‘ Mr. Marsalis said. ‘‘I don’t like the smell of them. I’ve never put a chitterling in my mouth.’‘
‘‘He looks like a chitterling eater,’‘ Mr. Fierce said, indicating Doug Thornton, a cousin of Ms. Reeves.
Ms. Schiff asked, ‘‘What’s a chitterling?’‘
Mr. Vance explained, ‘‘Well, it’s hog intestines.’‘
Ms. Reeves added, ‘‘And they have it in France. They just call it tripe.’‘
‘‘I’m not afraid of a chitterling,’‘ Mr. Marsalis said diplomatically. ‘‘There’s nothing wrong with a chitterling.’‘ After he and the other musicians volleyed a couple of double entendres involving various kinds of rolls, , Mr. Marsalis explained his philosophy of being careful. ‘‘You look over the line,’‘ he said, ‘‘but you don’t step over it.’‘
Mr. Fierce said, ‘‘But you do look.’‘
Mr. Marsalis answered, ‘‘There’s no harm in looking.’‘
A slightly reduced group headed to the Sugar Hill Bistro in Harlem, where young men clasping trumpets were waiting. If it’s cool to be with the band, it’s even cooler to be with the guy who determines who’s in the band. Crowds parted when Mr. Marsalis appeared. Inside, Mizz Alice was seated up front.
Warmed up with sake and sushi, Mr. Marsalis uncorked his horn and sailed into a set. Six hours after ironing his tie, he was still as crisp as a banker. Around midnight he said, ‘‘Let’s bring on some of these young players here. How about Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Wheatleigh Hall’?’‘
A parade of earnest horn players grabbed the limelight. The last was a young woman who closed her eyes and ripped up the place with a trombone solo. And the Sugar Hill Bistro became, for just a short time after midnight, the center of the jazz universe. (It was no surprise to Mr. Marsalis that the young trombonist was Jennifer Krupa, a granddaughter of the drummer Gene Krupa.)
There was no way to beat that. Like any other party-hardy good-timer, Mr. Marsalis was better at saying goodbye than he was at leaving. A circle of well wishers and jazz students gathered around him to talk. Wess Warmdaddy Anderson, his sax player, commented on one member of the party who left early.
‘‘I can hang,’‘ he told Ms. Schiff. ‘‘And you can hang. But he can’t hang.’‘ Hang being, after all, a prime requirement for jazz lovers.
Mr. Marsalis is competitive even when it comes to hang, though he also believes sternly in getting up early. ‘‘There’s hang,’‘ he said, ‘‘And then there’s the after hang. And that can narrow down to a very small, very select group. It can be a group as small as two. Want to go to the after hang?’‘
by Linda Lee
Source: The New York Times