Wynton Marsalis: interview

Cover: Cadence Magazine (July 1981)

CADENCE: Aside from the fact that Art Blakey recommends you very highly, I know nothing about you or your background so perhaps you could fill that in.

WYNTON MARSALIS: I’m from New Orleans, born October 18, 1961. I got my first trumpet I when I was 6, from Al Hirt. My father had played piano in Al Hirt’s band; great musician my father Ellis Marsalis. I didn’t really practice till I was 12 or 13 I started listening to Miles. I really got interested in playing._ I got a teacher and I played with Danny Barkers band and around ttie French Quarter and I played the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic when I was 14.
I went to a high school called the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts. I was in the classical division but my father was the Jazz instructor. I was lucky to have grown up with him, he stressed learning of the music through assimilation rather than the way they teach it at schools like Berkeley – where. my brother goes; he plays alto. They teach it theoretically which is bull. I was fortunate to have an instructor who said here are the records, here’s what you do. I go to Juilliard now, do my homework on the road.

CAD: Did you try to model yourself after anybody?

W.M.: Not really. I sound lake Freddie Hubbard most I guess. That’s what everybody says, but I don’t think so.

CAD: Art Blakey said you played with the Boston Symphony.
W.M.: Not working with them, just like a joint thing at Tanglewood. I did a broadway show last year, I do anything I can do, worked with the Brooklyn Philharmonic doing solos with them last year. And I had a gig in New Orleans at the Oyster bar, only modern gig in New Orleans, when I was 13 or 14. I’ve always worked cause I need the money.

CAD: What are your priorities now in music?
W.M.: I just want to put out the best possible product I can put out in classical or Jazz.

CAD: I hear you have a contract with Columbia.
W.M.: Yeah, it’s classical or Jazz, one record. I got a manager and negotiated a contract and I got what I wanted, a good deal for a one time recording. The material is mutually agreed upon, that was one of the most important stipulations in the contract. We do what I want to do and thats the way it has to be. I’m not interested in being a star, I’m interested in learning how to play and producing the best possible product. I think it’s really important that more young Black cats are playing Jazz. Now we have 15 cats, teenagers, that I know of around the country that can play, really play.

CAD: 15 is not exactly a title wave.
W.M.: There are a lot more playing, but I m talking about 15 who can really play, play anybody’s gig.

CAD: And out of those 15, how many will go into Jazz and not be side-tracked?
W.M.: Well, if I have anything to do with it, all 15.

CAD: I’m skeptical because Columbia does not have a recent reputation of backing uncompromising Jazz, certainly new faces.
W.M.: Well, maybe they are taking a chance. I know they have to be taking a chance, because I know me. I mean I’m 19, from New Orleans, and nobody’s ever heard of me, but I know me. That’s not being arrogant – I’ve studied, I’m still studying hard, very hard. I believe in studying and I practice the trumpet. I’ve spent 7 years really practicing hard, I’m not talking bullshit, I’m talking about thinkin’ about what I’m doing. And I didn’t do that to write tunes that feature the bass player and play two notes. I’m interested in continuing the tradition of the music.
I have a problem as a new artist, because I’m not receiving any energy from the people Black people, ‘cause as we all know, Black people don’t listen to Jazz. This causes a problem with the music, ‘cause the music loses too much with its energy source. I loses too much with its energy source. I’m not going to record some trash like Weather Report or some crap with two chords on it and bass players vamping over and over again.
I respect what Woody Shaw is doing. I have a lot of respect for Freddie Hubbard as a trumpet player, he’s doing nothin’ now, but he’s a great trumpet player. I’m not cutting Freddie Hubbard down ‘cause I learned his solos, Woody’s solos, Kenny’s solos, Miles’ solos – I love all those cats. I’m not worried about Columbia. I don’t need the contract, because I can always work. I play Jazz ‘cause it’s my life. It’s part of me and I love doing it. I was raised in the tradition, I’ve done street parades in New Orleans, went to Tulane University and looked at the micro films at the Jazz Archives I’ve done that. I don’t know everything. The thing is Columbia is just a record company. I don’t need $500,000 – I’ve never been rich, so I don’t know what I am missing. I can always make money, I want to play now – I feel like playin’. It’s my responsibility to keep searching for something that exemplifies the movement of the Black people; the thought movement not the body movement. People will listen to anything, but what I’m concerned with is having great material.

CAD: Well, I wish you luck and time will tell. You have the same sort of arrogance, or what people call arrogance, that Cadence has.
W.M.: It’s not really that I’m so confident…

CAD: Your just going to do what you say you will…
W.M: I will do. I’m trying to stress, I know I have a lot to learn, but I know what I’m going to do. I’ll follow the course that I set for myself till the end.

CAD: That’s good, but the temptations out there are strong, and the corporations are powerful. The thing is, we do what we say we’ll do…
W.M.: That’s all you can do.

CAD: I’ve heard an incredible amount of hype about you today and that’s why I’m here (we caught Mr. Marsalis playing later, he is quite excellent and exciting) and I’m suspicious of that kind of hype except that I’ve heard it from people I respect. If, on the other hand, Columbia calls me up, says, “Were sending you the tests of the newest monster,” I’d be really suspicious.
W.M.: See what’s coming will not be bullshit.

CAD: Well, If you play as well as you talk your going to knock some boots off.
W.M.: I’m going to be true to myself and I’m not going to take any shit.

Montreal, November 15, 1980

by Bob Rusch
Source: Cadence: the American review of jazz and blues (July 1981)

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