Q&A: Wynton Marsalis on jazz, its value

Jazz musician and nine-time Grammy Award winner Wynton Marsalis, along with the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, will perform at the Murchison Performing Arts Center on Friday, two weeks after the university’s jazz program hosted a 75th-anniversary celebration. The sold-out Denton show is the last stop for Marsalis and the JLCO on their tour before heading back to New York City for a string of holiday performances.

The North Texas Daily was able to talk with Marsalis on Wednesday over a Zoom call about jazz and why he shares it with the world.

What is the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?

“There’s 15 of us. We all are soloists — 10 arrangers, and writers. We were founded with the surviving members of Duke Ellington’s band, members of my septet. We were in our 20s [and the] members of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band were in their 40s and early 50s. [Members from] those three ensembles came together. We formed the orchestra in 1988 and we’ve been together since that time. Now, of course, the members are all different. We’ve written over 1200 arrangements in the last 10 years. We’ll play around the world, conserve the legacy of this kind and we also write compositions — so we do both things at once.”

Why does JLCO do so many tours around the country and world?

“Well, people need to hear music live. We play a lot of gigs every year all over the world, and the music has its greatest impact when you can see people play it live. We get to be in communities. We’ve done some interesting things on this tour, some community-type things that we’ve never actually done. We’ve been playing all through the West Coast. We went to Mexico and we played everywhere. Even just last year we were in Ukraine and Russia. We actually played in the Kremlin […] almost a year ago to the day. It’s important to be present.”

Why are you and your group coming here to Denton, Texas?

“We have a lot of friends, great musicians we’ve known at UNT and it is one of the great schools of jazz, one of the first jazz programs and has a long tradition of jazz and of jazz music. We always look forward to playing and coming. It’s a cornerstone college program in the history of jazz.”

What does jazz music mean to you?

“For me, it’s a way of life because my father was a jazz musician. It is the musical way to deal with democratic imperatives through music. The fundamentals of it are addressed — fundamental principles of democracy. Improvisation is freedom, swing is responsibility and the blues is an optimism that is not naïve. Those three elements, when they’re present, it is jazz and the mode is of conversation, dialogue [and] collective improvisation to try to come to a collective understanding and to share their agency.”

Why do you think music education is valuable?

“Music is a painless way for you to develop your memory, for you to interface with the memory of your people. You have historic songs that you will know, like folk songs, and that music communicates something to you about the soul of your people. Music is a way for you to develop your spatial intelligence. Things happen in a certain time, and you become aware of where things go in a very abstract way. It’s a very abstract language. It deals with all internal things like thoughts, fears, dreams, emotions — whatever is in the realm of the invisible. Music is a way to order the invisible. Music gives you a formal proposition because they have forms that go around and around in cycles. American music is a chorus format of songs that go in cycles, and in European music, there are other types of forms like fugues and sonata form, rondo form and other forms that are repetitive that allow you to develop your attention span. Music is a way to understand families. There are families of instruments, and even those families of instruments have hierarchies.”

Do you have any advice for student musicians?

“You can’t be serious enough — especially because music is only viewed as a commercial product now. Return to the integrity of the music. You’re a student of it so we need you out here, but we need some integrity and we need to realize the dreams that the ancestors could not realize. Some of it was a lack of ability, some of it was wrong circumstance, some of it was ignorance, some of it was failure. They set up a lot for us to do. And, also very important, take yourself seriously. Don’t waste your time or think that your thoughts or your creativity is not worth it or worth pursuing. Always try to work with your highest self. Take yourself seriously.”

by Kaitlynn Hutchins
Source: North Texas Daily

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