Wynton Marsalis on the Jazz Fest poster, touring & new record

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster 2016 – Design by Paul Rogers

Trumpet maestro Wynton Marsalis said he’s happy appear in the top center window of the 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster “House of Swing,” surrounded by other members of his musical family.

“Paul Rogers is the artist,” Marsalis said in a telephone conversation from New York. “I’ve known Paul for a long time and I love him.”

Though, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City said, autographing the edition of posters was a chore.

“I just signed a lot of them so I familiarized myself with it. I know that poster very well. There’s 1,500 of them so it was a production.”

The posters had been delivered to Lincoln Center for his signature. They will travel to brothers Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason, plus father Ellis Marsalis Jr. for their autographs before the April 22 to May 1 festival.

Marsalis, who was born in New Orleans, said he’d recently returned from a six-week concert tour that included stops across Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

“I love being on tour, I grew up on tour,” he said, (but) it’s strenuous, you know. I don’t feel like a tourist. When I’m on tour mainly I’m working.”

Sometimes, he said, he’s able to visit with friends at tour stops, but “we don’t have time to sightsee.” Days off, he said, are often taken up with traveling. And, he admits, he’s apprehensive about flying and travels by air only because he has to.

Marsalis said his heart goes out to the victims of the March 22 terrorist attack in Belgium, where he’d recently played.

“That’s the world we live in now,” he said, “and it could strike any of us at anytime, anywhere.”

In addition to the poster and tour, Marsalis is celebrating the release of a live 2013 recording of his composition “The Abyssinian Mass,” a stirring jazz and gospel fusion that marked the 200th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street in Harlem. The recording, on Lincoln Center’s Blue Engine label, is available for download.

Marsalis finds it difficult to assign any particular style or description to “The Abyssinian Mass.” “I couldn’t describe it,” he said laughing, “it’s comprehensive.” The music, he said, is its own description.

Listeners “are going to hear a lot of diversity of music; diversity of music in the service of praise,” he said. “I think the essence of the mass is to be found in the benediction. ‘Through you, Oh Lord, all things. Though we are many in life or death, we are truly one.’”

That spiritual sense of unity translates to the blend of music as well, Marsalis said.

“That’s how I perceive the music,” he said. “It’s a lot of music, but it comes from one source.”

Brass music in New Orleans has come to include funk, bounce, and even rock influences, but that isn’t necessarily the future of jazz, in Marsalis’s view. Asked where jazz is going, Marsalis said, with a laugh: “I don’t think art forms go anywhere; I think cars go places.”

Marsalis said that to distinguish jazz from other musical forms, one must look past the front man.

“Whether something is jazz or not is always determined by what percentage of what the rhythm section plays is jazz,” he said. “So if they (the rhythm section) are playing mainly rock, it’s rock.”

By Doug MacCash

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