BT River of Music: Wynton Marsalis interview for London 2012
The trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are regular visitors to Britain, and each appearance whets our appetite for more. Marsalis and his elite big-band jazz players will be a highlight on the Americas stage at the Tower of London, a gig that fits neatly with their current season at the Barbican.
Listeners can expect a feast of swing and bop by some of the great jazz composers, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, as well as new compositions by band-members and Marsalis himself. They will also be joined by a trio of young British musicians from the East London Creative Jazz Orchestra.
Marsalis is a copper-bottomed prodigy in several departments. Brought up in the great tradition of New Orleans jazz by his father, Ellis, who sired a band’s worth of musicians, including Wynton’s brothers Branford, Jason and Delfeayo, he cut his teeth playing with such veterans as Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock before forming his own combo in 1981. Meanwhile he carved himself a parallel career as a Grammy-winning classical trumpeter, performing with the world’s top orchestras and conductors. He’s a prolific composer, too, and has written ballet scores, the dramatic oratorio Blood on the Fields (which won him the Pulitzer Prize), and the multi-layered epic All Rise, written for big band, gospel choir and symphony orchestra.
Yet Marsalis may be remembered equally for his efforts in the social and educational spheres. He contributes to numerous medical, social and relief organisations, and raised $3 million with a charity concert to assist his stricken home city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. His work with Jazz at Lincoln Center has transcended mere musicianship to become a crusade to guarantee jazz’s status as a great American art form, fit to stand toe to toe with classical music or literature.
Marsalis has been criticised for his staunch defence of traditional standards, as well as traditional music, but he’s unrepentant. “Hairstyles change but values don’t,” he asserts. “As parents, it’s our job to nurture those good values. It’s not difficult to teach kids because they want to be taught.”
He credits his own father, who still plays at jazz clubs in New Orleans, with equipping him with the tools for his chosen tasks.
“He taught me to practise, just through watching him,” Wynton says. “He taught me to have integrity at every gig – no matter if he was playing a lounge and people were talking all over him, he was still playing. He treats everybody with respect and gives them their dignity. So I learnt that from him.”
It was Ellis, too, who spelt out what it means to pursue a career in music.
“He told me, ‘if you want to play music, play. You might not get anywhere and you might be out there struggling for ever, but if you really want to play it’s worth it. But if you just want to be famous and make a lot of money, don’t play.’”
Fame and fortune have arrived, nevertheless, but Marsalis won’t be deflected. “My mission has always been consistent,” he says. “Uplift through music.”
– By Adam Sweeting
Source: The Telegraph