Affirming Life in the Midst of a Tragedy

Wynton Marsalis, like most of the nation, was riveted to the television Tuesday as the terrorist tragedy in Manhattan and Washington unfolded.

“I’m still in shock,” he said by phone from his West Hollywood hotel. “Our whole band is in shock. We were supposed to rehearse today, and we got together and had a meeting, and we just said, ‘Damn, we can’t do it.’ And that’s rare, canceling a rehearsal, like something we never do.”

Tonight’s performance of “All Rise” at the Hollywood Bowl will take place as scheduled, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. But Marsalis was still having difficulty sorting through how his life-affirming composition would play so soon after such a deadly attack. He hopes it will serve as a tribute to the thousands who died, as well as illustrate the fragile line that separates life and death.

“Whenever you have death and destruction and tragedy of this magnitude, you always have a more serious attitude about living,” he said. “On the one hand you’re horrified, and on the other hand you experience that strange type of feeling people get in the face of tragedy. Because part of what makes life so sweet is the awareness of death.”

That duality is a fundamental theme in “All Rise.”

“The music has that in it,” Marsalis said. “Even its relationship to silence. Because when something stops and then it starts, it’s like it dies and then it lives again. When they open up and then close again, it’s the same thing.”

Music, and all the arts, are the antithesis of the kind of destruction wreaked on New York and Washington, Marsalis said. Certainly music-in particular the blues-acknowledges tragedy and ignorance, but the music itself is an instrument of healing. In one segment of “All Rise,” Marsalis even has the women of the chorus sing, “Our song is healing.”

On the television, though, the destruction continued. Marsalis stopped speaking on the phone as he watched the third World Trade Center building collapse. Then, he added: “My music is about the fact that, no matter what, it affirms life. It doesn’t affirm this kind of stuff.”

by Don Heckman
Source: Los Angeles Times

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