Between Takes with Wynton Marsalis

Editor’s Note: If the Saints win on Sunday in Carolina, New Orleans will capture the NFC South and a first round bye in the NFC Playoffs. Should the Saints play for their second Lombardi Trophy, we know what Crescent City native and New York City resident Wynton Marsalis might be ladling out at his Super Bowl party, based on the story in the video below. In 2010, Marsalis told us the tale, and here now it’s the focus of our first ever animated short. We call it NFL FILMS DRAWN. Beneath this TCIPF Exclusive, read Feature Producer Chris Weaver’s behind-the-scenes account of how the Marsalis interview ended up in our film library, including more lost video outtakes from the sit-down between Weaver and Wynton.

In the Spring of 2010 when NFL Films produced The Top-100 Players of All-Time series, the goal was to interview artists and other non-football folks about the best players in football history. To discuss Barry Sanders, the show runner wanted to interview jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis. Being a big music fan, and something of a jazz nut, I asked if I could conduct the interview, then produce the Barry Sanders segment. I was notified that Marsalis would indeed be available to take a break from his duties as the Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center to sit-down with us.

“Ask him to bring his horn,” I said.

Marsalis arrived with horn in hand, sharply dressed and slightly early. While cinematographer Matt Lyons finished composing the shot, Marsalis and I chatted off-camera about everything from Henri Matisse to my six month old son. He often spoke in bursts and runs that reminded me of a virtuoso weaving through a solo. Though the interview primarily focused on Barry Sanders, we also talked about his other favorite NFL Running Backs, some of his favorite musicians, artistic and athletic improvisation, and the concept of greatness. It all proved useful in the final Barry Sanders segment.

After finishing the interview, I asked if he could break out his trumpet and play us something that could be used as the soundtrack of the Barry Sanders piece. “Just off the cuff…something that reminds you of how Barry runs,” I said.

He just started riffing. It was surreal. “Wynton Marsalis is giving the crew and me an incredibly intimate and improvised concert, here in a New York City hotel room,” I thought. “Can any of the adjacent rooms hear this? If so, I wonder if they think this is as cool as I do? Or if they’re calling the front desk to report this ruckus.”

Talking with Marsalis was one of the most memorable and unique moments of my career. The experience became even more special when he sent my son a jazz for kids CD called WeBop! a couple weeks after the interview.

The interview was so dense with good bites, I couldn’t possibly fit all of them into one 5-minute segment. And since a Barry Sanders piece had nothing to do with New Orleans, one of Marsalis’ best stories—about watching his hometown Saints win Super Bowl 44—didn’t have a home. Until now, on NFL Films Drawn.

by Chris Weaver

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