Jazz great explores American culture through the arts

Wynton Marsalis studied the hands of Toledo bass player Clifford Murphy as they surprised a lucky few with a jam session in Libbey Hall following the lecture. Murphy told the trumpeter he played piano just like his father, Ellis Marsalis.

Integrating his beloved jazz into an exciting cultural overview, internationally renowned musician Wynton Marsalis educated the crowd gathered for the sixth annual Edward Shapiro Distinguished Lecture Series about the validity of the arts throughout U.S. history and the importance of retaining a uniquely American artistic identity.

Marsalis began the evening with his speech, “The Ballad of American Arts,” and took some 1,000 audience members in the Student Union Auditorium on a journey.
He talked of the drum as an integral part of U.S. music.

He painted a vivid portrait of where the nation’s culture has played a part in struggles for liberty and freedom, and how at times did not live up to its potential.

He spoke about the many wars fought, the downtrodden blues of the oppressed and the civil rights movement.

He brought the listeners home to the present, an era in which he believes America’s cultural identity has been lost, partly through the demise of art programs in public education. He said people have fallen out of touch with understanding the greater community at large.

“We want to embrace each other, but we just don’t know how,” Marsalis said.

The musician insisted on more substantive and culturally rooted education, in addition to self-discovery.

“It can’t move the country forward,” Marsalis said about art. “It allows people to focus on their individuality. It’s not about the survival of the fittest, but more so discovering what makes you you — finding the beauty in originality.”

Marsalis is an accomplished jazz trumpeter, composer, bandleader, writer and educator who has won nine Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. He has produced more than 70 records that have sold more than seven million copies worldwide.

He is the first musician to give the Shapiro Lecture.

“What Wynton Marsalis did at the Shapiro Series was stunning,” said Jon Richardson, chair of the Edward Shapiro Lecture Series Committee and an instructor in the Honors College. “He didn’t just inform his audience, he taught us about ourselves, our country and our culture. I wish everyone in Toledo could have heard it.”

By Jasmine R. Neilson
Source: UTOLEDO News

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