Wynton Marsalis on Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center

When the producers of the NPR program “Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center” edit the show that was taped with guest Wynton Marsalis at the Terrace Theater Monday night, they’ll have trouble deciding what to emphasize: the trumpeter’s words or his music.

Responding to questions from the show’s host or members of the audience, Marsalis was in top form, his comments by turns funny, provocative, inspiring and self-deprecatory. On the art of composing, the recent Pulitzer Prize winner quipped, “I’m always late and rushing, so it doesn’t take long.” Asked about the musical association his brother Branford has had with Sting, the trumpeter recalled that he was initially upset, “but mainly because I lost half of my band.” The thought of older players jumping on the pop bandwagon sparked his ire — “There’s nothing sadder than a jazz musician playing funk” — and his comments about the great trumpet tradition in jazz were both illuminating and amusing. “The first jazz musician was a trumpeter — Buddy Bolden,” he boasted. “And the last will be a trumpeter — the Archangel Gabriel.”

Throughout the evening, Marsalis frequently referred to his own struggles and growth as a jazz musician, though only the latter was evident when he collaborated with Taylor and his resourceful band-mates, bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Steve Johns. The program wasn’t particularly challenging, offering a mostly familiar collection of ballads (“Stardust”), flag-wavers (“Cherokee”) and swing tunes (“Just Friends”), but Marsalis brought a distinct palette of tonal colors to each arrangement. Indeed, his use of growls, smears, trills and fulgent exclamations helped underscore his New Orleans roots and inspire some delightful interplay. — CAPTION: Wynton Marsalis spoke and performed Monday night as part of the NPR program “Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center.”

By Mike Joyce
Source: Washington Post

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