At Trumpeter’s Home, the Door’s Always Open

(Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times Wynton Marsalis, 48, and his friend Joey Pero, 29, in Mr. Marsalis’s apartment in Manhattan)

On Thursday evening, Joey Pero walked past Lincoln Center and stepped into the lobby of a luxury high-rise apartment building on West 66th Street and told the doorman, “We’re here to see Wynton.”

Mr. Pero, a 29-year-old, Juilliard-educated trumpet player with a new album out, headed up to a sprawling apartment with stunning views of Manhattan and New Jersey and the purple-glowing sky beyond.

In a far room, Wynton Marsalis plunked out notes at different intervals on a grand piano covered with music books. Mr. Marsalis was on a tight deadline, but he got up – his pal Joey was here.

“Joey’s like a member of my family,” Mr. Marsalis said. The two trumpeters get together regularly at Mr. Marsalis’s apartment, for a chess game or a meal or maybe some playing. Or sometimes none of these.

“He just comes up and hangs out — it’s not like we sit around talking about mouthpieces,” said Mr. Marsalis, who wore a dress shirt, slacks and socks.

Mr. Pero grew up near Rochester, N.Y., idolizing Mr. Marsalis. When he was 15, his father, also named Joe, took him to one of Mr. Marsalis’s performances in Toronto and brought him backstage afterward to try to meet his hero. Mr. Marsalis was moved to see this working-class father — a plumber — trying to help his son live his dream as a trumpeter. He gave young Joey his Manhattan address.

“I saw a father wanting something for his son,” Mr. Marsalis said on Thursday. “When I was a kid, my mama wanted something better for us, and would bring us to classical concerts where we were the only black people there. I know she didn’t want to be there. She was doing it for us.”

It must have worked because Joey became a student at Juilliard. And he and his father were warmly welcomed by Mr. Marsalis, who took a special liking to Joe Pero senior. “He’s a plumber -– he fixed my toilet one time,” Mr. Marsalis said. “They’re soulful people.”

This is what Mr. Marsalis thought about the younger man’s playing: direct and sincere, with a skillful technique that was hard earned, like his own. Mr. Marsalis gave him one of his David Monette trumpets, a “brush gold” model. Giving horns is a tradition, Mr. Marsalis said.

“Al Hirt gave me my first trumpet,” he said, referring to the great New Orleans trumpeter. His beloved teacher William Fielder also gave him a horn.

Mr. Pero plays that Monette trumpet on his new CD, “Resonance,” which features his technique and stupendous high-note work, as well as vocal performances by Freddie Cole and Phoebe Snow.

Mr. Pero became friends with Mr. Marsailis’s three sons, including his teenage son, who, during the Thursday visit, was in another room playing hip-hop music.

“He wants to be a D.J.,” Mr. Marsalis said of his son. “I told him, ‘If you like it, fine, but I’m not going to listen to it.’”

Mr. Marsalis is in the middle of finishing a symphonic piece for the Berlin Philharmonic. Near the piano was a television tuned to a N.B.A. playoff game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic.

“I’m comfortable with noise when I’m writing, as long as it’s not music,” Mr. Marsalis said. “I grew up in a busy house with a lot of kids around.”

Mr. Marsalis’s apartment circulates constantly with friends, family, children, neighbors and fellow musicians, just the way his father, the jazz musician Ellis Marsalis, kept things back in New Orleans.

“I’m from New Orleans, and this is how we are,” Mr. Marsalis said. “I’m not partying up here; I don’t get high. I may be composing at the piano. I’m not going to entertain. You come up, you’re welcome, but you’re on your own.”

One neighbor, a Japanese man who speaks no English, often sits next to the piano, drinks beer and watches the ballgame – for hours. Mr. Marsalis often calls in another neighbor, a teenager who plays violin, to test certain musical passages.

On Thursday, Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Pero discussed the trumpet teachers they both studied with at Juilliard, and they discussed the surgery on Mr. Marsalis’s lip a few years back, which has left him uncertain of finding and leaping to certain high notes. Mr. Marsalis tried to demonstrate this by picking up his trumpet and, off the bat, blowing a high A. But he hit the A perfectly and followed it with a rapid, two-octave descending scale. He laughed and apologized: “I guessed right, this time.”

Then he and Mr. Pero both had their horns out, and Mr. Marsalis demonstrated a particularly difficult lick. Mr. Pero picked it up instantly.

Mr. Pero said that just hanging out at Mr. Marsalis’s apartment has helped him mature as a person and as an artist. “Just being around Wynton, I’ve learned the art of listening, not being so forward,” he said.

“In jazz, you got to have manners,” said Mr. Marsalis, who then returned to his piano, just out of earshot of his son’s hip-hop music.

by Corey Kilgannon
Source: The New York Times

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