Wynton Marsalis: Speaking from the Melody

Trumpeter, composer, author, leader, public figure, educator, father–musician…. Wynton Marsalis is a man of many hats, too many to list here. But recent events have catapulted his profile as an educator into the spotlight: particularly his work as Artistic Director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, as host of the National Public Radio series “Making the Music,” as a visitor to countless schools and numerous educational conferences, and as the magnetic personality drawing viewers to the four-part PBS-TV series, “Marsalis on Music.”

The February 15, 1989 edition of The Houston Post attributes to Marsalis the following “cultural filters to separate ‘what is labeled jazz’ from what jazz music really is:
a) a deep, deep blues sense and appreciation;
b) the chops and awareness to think of a tune polyphonically rather than merely melodically;
c) thinking of solos not as display but as a form of gospel-style call and response;
d) a sensitivity to the difference of groove and melody, as established by George Gershwin and Cole Porter;
and e) an understanding of the historical tradition of jazz itself, from its New Orleans roots forward.”

I welcomed the opportunity in mid-May to talk with a hometown friend about how he approaches teaching the music we call jazz.

GARCÍA: Among the many interviews with and stories about you that I’ve read, I haven’t seen opportunities for you to describe what you believe would be the best approach for a jazz education program for younger students–and even for more advanced students. So let’s talk about things that you don’t get a chance to discuss in other settings.

MARSALIS: You know you never get any forum to express any thing of any value.

GARCÍA: Well, I hope to change that!

MARSALIS: I was thinking today that of all the interviews I do, of all the things I’m known for, it seems they never have anything to do with music!

GARCÍA: Then this is going to be the one.

Jazz Ed for Beginners

GARCÍA: Teachers who are looking for advice seem most often to be seeking ideas about how to teach the basic, initial approach to jazz. Many educators have not had the opportunity to go out and learn–much less perform–jazz…

MARSALIS: …right…

GARCÍA: …and so they find that their students are more interested in jazz at a young age than they were themselves….

MARSALIS: …right.

GARCÍA: Meeting that demand can be a tall order; but they have a sincere interest in wanting to catch up and pass on the right kind of information to their students.

MARSALIS: Yeah. I think that in all of the bands that I’ve gone in front of, I’ve never had a problem with any band director, ever. And you know that’s a lot of bands, Tony! And it really has shocked me because when you go and speak to a band, you’re always sensitive about saying something that will usurp the authority of the band director. But we don’t really have that type of thing happening: people just really want to know what’s going on.

GARCÍA: You’ve had chances in the last year or two to speak to a great deal of teachers in large groups, such as at the MENC and IAJE Conferences and at The Mid-West Clinic, and certainly as individuals. So you find the attitude is really good?

MARSALIS: I feel it is good. Teachers are sincere about it; so I think we have to do a good job of presenting them with something that they can work with. It’s difficult to want to teach something that you don’t know or that you aren’t familiar with.

GARCÍA: So if you had an opportunity to set up the ideal entry-level jazz program for elementary school kids, what would you would like to see in their curriculum?

MARSALIS: Well, I would start them off on songs done in the style of New Orleans music. I would pick New Orleans music because there you have the function of three different types of horns: the high-pitched instrument–the clarinet; the middle-range instrument–the trumpet; and the low instrument–the trombone. You have the rhythm section playing basic two-beat grooves and dance rhythms that are easy to teach the snare drum and the bass drum. These basic instruments all have a traditional function, what their players would be doing if they weren’t studying jazz.

I would definitely have them play the blues and songs with very simple chord progressions. The hymn “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” has the same chord changes as “Happy Birthday.” I would pick only songs that have very basic chords: “Little Liza Jane,” I-V-I, I-IV-V-I. And maybe choose one song with a little more difficult progression in it: maybe “Over in the Glory Land.” Or just another hymn, you know?…“Amazing Grace” or something that lends itself to a more medium-tempo groove. It would take awhile just to get the kids to play the song…

GARCÍA: …to sound like they believe it.

MARSALIS: Yeah, just to sound like they know it: just to play and get a little simple arrangement of it. Then I would get them into the rudimentary elements of improvisation: playing around the melody–just stick to the melody; or if you’re playing the harmony part, just put a little syncopation in it–put a little something different in it. I think that’s mainly what we would work on for the first year. I would open it up and let them all solo, no matter what they play, because on the real simple songs I wouldn’t show them scales. I would not deal with scales first.

GARCÍA: Just have them follow their ear.

MARSALIS: I would have them follow their ear; but I would also have a listening component built in for my players, which means we would listen to people play that style on recordings.

GARCÍA: Right. Do you think kids should scat-sing to help their improvisation at a young age?

MARSALIS: Oh, definitely. Singing is definitely good.

GARCÍA: It certainly fits into the New Orleans style. There are so many R&B and jazz artists who both sing and play down there and don’t seem to care how esoteric their voices are: they’re just getting the sound to feel right. In your early years in New Orleans you were learning from so many different influences: your family and their friends, parade and brass groups–for a lot of what you did, there was no printed music offered you.

MARSALIS: Right. Danny Barker would teach songs to people: he would just sing your part. As you were saying, singing is very important–and also the sharing of music, like learning things from hearing and taking things off of albums…learning little songs and playing them. And because the vocal tradition is so different now, you have to expose students to vocal styles that are not watered down.

GARCÍA: Who might you suggest?

MARSALIS: Well, any of the great vocalists, but Louis Armstrong if you’re trying to learn how to play jazz: he’s always the best just because his sense of phrasing is so…

GARCÍA: …so rhythmic…

MARSALIS: …yeah, so rhythmic, so well-defined, and also so melodic.

GARCÍA: So how much time might be spent on these relatively simple tunes before you would start dealing with something that isn’t so simple?

MARSALIS: Well, I think it would be four years…

GARCÍA: …really establishing a foundation…

MARSALIS: …yeah, I think you don’t have to be in a hurry.

GARCÍA: Isn’t hurrying generally the case, though: everybody wanting to be a wunderkind by the time they’re fifteen?

MARSALIS: Yeah, that’s too bad, because that’s often why they don’t learn how to play! Jazz music is designed to help you hear better, and whenever we construct things in a curriculum that help students to avoid hearing…

GARCÍA: …they look for the answer somewhere else.

MARSALIS: Right, and that takes them away from jazz. It’s important to know the scales; but I think at first you have to learn to hear, to trust in your hearing, and to take chances with hearing music.

GARCÍA: If a teacher asked you to recommend some great recordings to inspire young kids who want to learn and hear what jazz is about, what would you suggest?

MARSALIS: I think Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue [CBS 32109] is the first one I would name because it’s easy to hear and there’s great playing on it. Then I would say Duke Ellington’s The Far East Suite [Bluebird ND 87640].

GARCÍA: Very colorful….

MARSALIS: Yeah, something that’s picturesque. Then I’d suggest Dave Brubeck’s Time Out [CBS 62068] because of all those different times and rhythms in it. Charlie Parker…really anything with him on it…

GARCÍA: …maybe even with Dizzy Gillespie on the same cut.

MARSALIS: Yeah. I mean, any Charlie Parker. Then John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman [Impulse GRD 157]. That’s for the ones that like something sweet.

GARCÍA: I think that’s a great starter menu. You’re often meeting with young people after you perform concerts. Sometimes you take a great deal of time working with them: a private lesson here, a chat there, or whatever. We discussed already the sincerity of educators; do you feel the younger kids–the students who are coming up–have a strong interest in the meaning of jazz, that their heads are in the right place?

MARSALIS: I think the kids have it; they just don’t have enough exposure to jazz. Many kids in band programs don’t listen to any music elsewhere that they’re actually playing in band: they only listen to what’s on the radio, the video channel. So it’s very difficult for band directors to motivate kids who don’t really listen to any development-oriented music.

GARCÍA: It seems about the only avenue for them on a regular basis is public radio, which you’re involved in as well with your shows.

MARSALIS: Yeah. If students are exposed to jazz, they like it. Young students are malleable: they often do what the adults do.

GARCÍA: You really don’t run into situations where you’ve exposed kids to jazz and they just turn their noses up and reject it?

MARSALIS: No, not if they really hear what it is. Some kids have said they don’t like it, but it takes time for them to hear jazz. If you’ve had a steady diet of the most commercial things available, it’s generally difficult for you to like anything that’s not commercial. It’s as if you eat dessert all the time: you’re not going to want to eat real food! Now if you’re eating real food, you don’t mind eating a little dessert!

The Harman Collaboration

GARCÍA: In March at the People’s Music School in Chicago you kicked off a partnership with Harman International (manufacturers of audio equipment) which assists your visiting inner-city schools. If I understand correctly, some local musicians are also giving workshops for the students–plus Harman International kicks in some sound equipment to leave behind for the future of the schools.

MARSALIS: Right. Dr. Sidney Harman himself comes with me.

GARCÍA: He comes to each school?

MARSALIS: Right. And he’s good, too, man! [laughing] He’s a good teacher, man!


MARSALIS: I’m serious, man!

GARCÍA: What does he teach about?

MARSALIS: He teaches about listening! That’s what we talk about. Man, he’s a good teacher–I’m telling you, really.

GARCÍA: And so Dr. Harman and you got this plan together to do outreach in a variety of cities and leave sound equipment behind?

MARSALIS: Right. We leave recordings, too.

GARCÍA: So they get a little jazz history lesson.

MARSALIS: And more. We’ve been including Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Ravel’s Bolero, Brubeck’s recording of Take Five, Ellington’s Take the “A” Train and Afro Bossa…a wide range of things.

GARCÍA: I read in June’s Down Beat that you felt as though this is the most positive partnership between jazz and the business sector of the music industry that you have encountered.

MARSALIS: Yeah, because it’s genuine.

GARCÍA: Dr. Harman’s actually not only a good listener; he’s willing to back it up.

MARSALIS: Definitely.

Intermediate Level Ed

GARCÍA: You visit so many high schools and certainly find more advanced players who have done some listening and are trying to move forward playing on 32-bar tunes. Are there any regular concerns that arise, elements for which you are consistently offering advice?

MARSALIS: I think the main thing is that by the time students get in high school they should know all their scales and things like that.

GARCÍA: It should all be under their belts.

MARSALIS: Yeah, it’s not that hard to learn. It seems like it’s hard when you don’t know it, but everything is difficult when you start. It’s just a matter of diligent work. Another main thing I hear in these players is they’re not first trying to swing: I always stress the importance of the rhythmic attitude. Another is listening to the other members of the band: you know, you’re not playing alone!

GARCÍA: Often you hear students soloing as if by themselves even though they are surrounded by other people?

MARSALIS: Yeah. My test is always to ask them what somebody else played around them during the solo: they almost never know!

GARCÍA: I had read a quote from you that highlighted one of the essential skills of a jazz musician as being able to hear polyphonically. Many think of polyphonic music as being some sort of classical analysis: perhaps hearing a melody and a counterline, maybe its resulting chordal structure–but you were talking about it in terms of the tune and the improvisation and the surrounding musicians.

MARSALIS: When you’re developing your hearing, you want to try to hear all the perspectives that are playing at the same time. You don’t want to listen to one instrument, you want to try to listen to all the instruments; so you have to develop your concentration to that level. It’s as if you’re sitting on a bus, trying to listen intently to three or four people speak at once: you could do it.

GARCÍA: It’s the same thing in a combo.

MARSALIS: Yeah, it’s just a matter of concentration.

GARCÍA: Would you apply the term also to the ability to hear the original tune at the same time as you’re improvising?

MARSALIS: If I don’t know the changes, I try to use the melody so I can figure out where the note is in relation to the sound that I’m hearing; so yeah, I’ll do that. And sometimes I do it when I’m just playing.

GARCÍA: I know that when you transcribe a solo off a recording, you take more than just the solo off the record: you’re trying to find out what’s going on with the rhythm section and the rationale behind the interaction.

MARSALIS: Yeah, learn all of the parts.

GARCÍA: Do you find that high school players are receptive to that sort of thing, or is it usually a shock to them?

MARSALIS: Yeah, a shock…I don’t think they want to do it so much.

GARCÍA: It’s a lot to undertake.

MARSALIS: It’s a lot of work. But the thing about working on something is that you don’t have to have success right away: just attempt to do it! Often you just start off with attempting, and then as time passes it becomes clear to you. Things take time.

GARCÍA: But at least in the tempo of the American way, there isn’t time to do everything you should on the way to superstardom by age fifteen; so I don’t find many patient enough to do that kind of work. They think about someone–maybe Wynton Marsalis–who was initially recognized at a fairly young age; and they figure you somehow arrived without working at it. I remind them that regardless of how “happening” you’re sounding now, if you have it your way you’ll sound even more together when you’re about fifty or sixty.

MARSALIS: Yeah, you just keep practicing and working on it. You know, you can’t be in a hurry to learn music. Even as teachers we often want to see results immediately, and we also want to have the feeling we’re teaching the students something. They may sound sad for so long; and often the patience that’s required of you runs out–especially when you’re waiting for a student to be able to really hear something. So you want to give them some scale or something to play so then they can sound just passable.

GARCÍA: That brings up an interesting point: I think it’s true that we as teachers look for the opportunity to hear something good come back to us–it may sometimes become an ulterior motive.

MARSALIS: Yeah, we have to be patient and wait with the students. And another good thing for the high school students is the thematic approach: you learn to try to figure out someone like Charlie Parker or Lester Young, to see how they construct their solos thematically.

GARCÍA: I find as I travel to various schools that seems to be a less common teaching approach.

MARSALIS: Yeah, like sentence structure, you know? But it’s rarely used by some teachers because they’re trying to go from the standpoint of scales first, and the greatest musicians are not constructing their solos from scales! Coltrane did a little bit of that; but even Coltrane takes a theme beginning on the initial chords and develops that theme through the chords that follow. Then he’ll invent another theme and develop that theme. You know, all the musicians that I talk to always talk about the construction of a solo; so I would teach students that playing is like talking. When you’re playing a solo, you want to get your theme, then turn it around and twist it; you want to do something with it so that you don’t have to keep inventing new material. Otherwise you’ll run out of stuff sooner! And when you do run out of material, you learn how to listen to other peoplein the band to come up with something new so that all the music will be related.

GARCÍA: Sure. But that’s something that’s hard to teach out of a book.

MARSALIS: You can’t teach it out of a book. It’s like trying to teach your kids how to converse.

GARCÍA: You didn’t learn that out of a book.

MARSALIS: There’s no book for that! The book is good to teach you things that you already know. For example, you knew how to speak English before you got your first English book. The book is good to take you a higher level when you already have a basic understanding. But you can’t use the book to teach the basic things.

Lincoln Center Ellington

GARCÍA: You coordinate the “Essentially Ellington” High School Jazz Band Competition through Lincoln Center. I note that even though it’s a competition it’s set up in a very educational format: obviously the point of it isn’t to win but to get the opportunity to experience the music. What did you want the kids to get out of it?

MARSALIS: I think it’s important that if you play in a symphony orchestra or a youth orchestra, you’re always performing masterworks: Sibelius’ Second Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, Ravel’s Bolero, or Beethoven’s Fifth…. But if you play in a jazz band, you might never play a great piece of jazz music. You’re always playing someone’s arrangement of Duke Ellington. Arrangements might be okay, but they certainly won’t teach you the meaning and sound of jazz. You might even be playing the worst possible arrangement of some music!

Now if we can start getting Duke Ellington’s music played via the transcriptions of this great music by Jimmy Mundy, Sy Oliver, the great arrangers of jazz…, if we could start getting their music to the students to hear and play, then I think we could see a great transition away from the “jazz band” sound. We could start getting our kids to play acoustic bass and not just electric bass….

GARCÍA: …plungers for the brass…

MARSALIS: …If we could get students to see that jazz music has certain objectives and is not to be rock music–not that we are against rock music–that jazz has certain things that make something jazz. If you’re going to play Stravinsky’s Petrushka on percussion, you’re not going to show up with a drum pad–you know what I’m saying?

GARCÍA: [laugh]

MARSALIS: You’re not going to show up with a synthesized drum: you’re going to show up to play the drums. Now that doesn’t mean you’re against synthesized drums; it just means that the part requires that you play the drums…

GARCÍA: …the right equipment for the job.

MARSALIS: Let’s get our kids on basses and on pianos. Electronic instruments are not the best instruments to learn how to play on because you don’t have the same level of intimacy: the sound is not under your control the way it is on acoustic instruments…

GARCÍA: …where you dictate your own tone from the start without “default settings.”

MARSALIS: Yeah. So I think that it’s important for us to stress once again that we’re not against electronic instruments or believe that students shouldn’t experiment with them–or that they’re not good tools. But the greatest people who play keyboards are people who play piano: Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea…all these musicians are piano players.

GARCÍA: From what I’ve seen, this year’s Ellington competition has already reached out to more than thirty schools who initially entered by receiving and recording the five Ellington compositions you made available.

MARSALIS: You know, we had more schools than that at first.

GARCÍA: Really! That’s a huge success in itself. Many of those students probably got their first taste of Duke Ellington at that very moment.

MARSALIS: Oh, yeah.

GARCÍA: That’s a terrific opportunity for outreach. Most of the finalists seem to be from New York or neighboring states.

MARSALIS: We only approached three states to start this: New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. We’re going to expand slowly. It already costs so much money to get all these scores; we’re still trying to fund it.

GARCÍA: I see that the winners, such as they are, receive a cash prize towards enhancing their jazz programs.

MARSALIS: Yes, indeed.

GARCÍA: But it seems as though they’ve already enhanced their jazz programs by rehearsing these Ellington pieces.

MARSALIS: Yeah, we’ve gotten some good letters. We also sent out clinicians to the schools to help the kids learn the music: Joe Temperley, Jon Faddis, Marcus Printup, Eric Reed, Michael Weiss, Bill Easley, Ronald Westray, Justin DiCioccio, and others.

GARCÍA: That’s a terrific resource for the students.

Music Advocacy

GARCÍA: You’ve done outreach through Lincoln Center, through public television and radio, certainly through the conferences that you attend: obviously you’re juggling a whole lot of different things. Do you feel as though you’ve undertaken a role as a jazz ambassador, especially for young kids; can you really enjoy that opportunity with all the time constraints that come with it?

MARSALIS: Well, I enjoy the opportunity to participate. Mainly, I’m just out there trying to help. I think it’s important. My time is short, though!

GARCÍA: You host some Saturday afternoon jazz programs for kids at Lincoln Center?

MARSALIS: Yeah, but only three or four of those a year.

GARCÍA: There aren’t that many performing musicians who feel that they can take such time to teach and still maintain their performing careers. It takes so much time away from their playing, yet it seems that you’ve found a good mix for yourself.

MARSALIS: Yeah, but I haven’t been practicing my horn like I need to, though. It’s hard to keep everything together.

GARCÍA: Yet you’re willing to take the chance.

MARSALIS: Well, I want to take time off and just practice; but it’s just a matter of everything you have to do in this time we have, you know. I mean, I was out here playing for fifteen years non-stop; so right now it’s important to concentrate on this educational effort for a little while. But you know, I love to play.

GARCÍA: It certainly seems as though in this country and abroad as well, people are increasingly receptive to the message of the potential good in jazz for kids.

MARSALIS: Once we really start dealing with jazz music for what it is, we’ll see a greater renaissance for our efforts. We’ll see a greater return, because the jazz music really goes with our way of living: it can teach us a lot about who we are. But we really have to do all we can to pursue it, figure out what it is, and try to develop it–instead of wishing that it would go away!…praying for it to be dead every five years!…attacking people who are trying to play it and celebrating those who are selling it off to make more money! All these things are going on, and it has a debilitating effect on the musicianship of our country.

GARCÍA: Why do you think that is?

MARSALIS: I think initially it was because the people who invented jazz were black people, and that metamorphosized into other things.

GARCÍA: Do you think it’s more just a cultural issue now?

MARSALIS: Yeah, I don’t think it’s a racial issue anymore. That was in the past. Teachers really don’t have that type of attitude now. I also think that there’s a new generation of teachers, like your age and mine: we just were raised another way, man! So I don’tthink it’s really even an issue anymore. There are so many other problems with our education that this is a minor problem. We’re losing music programs, period…of any kind of music. So the whole thing of jazz, you know, is okay.

GARCÍA: I presume you highlight the importance of music education because you feel as though kids will not only benefit from it musically but personally: find out who they are and what they can say.

MARSALIS: Oh yeah: there’s no argument against that.

GARCÍA: Unfortunately one ends up preaching to the choir a lot.

MARSALIS: Yeah, because the same people are interested in it.

GARCÍA: Trying to widen the circle is a tougher thing to do.

MARSALIS: Yeah, but it can be done. I think the more that we collaborate with each other…everybody’s really trying to do the same thing, man. I mean, we’re all musicians. Me and you, we’re musicians. We sat in rehearsals. All band directors out there are the same way. We all really are trying to do the same thing, whether I’m teaching about Duke Ellington or you’re teaching about John Philip Sousa or Francis MacBeth, or whatever. Donald Hunsberger [Eastman Wind Ensemble director] is from a different generation; but he’s talking about the same thing: musicianship and learning how to play. I know from being around him that that’s what he’s talking about.

Classical & Jazz Training

GARCÍA: That brings up a related thought: classical training for jazz musicians. You and I came from New Orleans, where we knew a lot of kids who didn’t have formal training who played some pretty darned good jazz. Of course, mainstream America mostly approaches new musicians through the formal school system. Some jazz kids feel as though classical training might get in their way; yet obviously for other people–such as you–it doesn’t. Do you have any advice for students pursuing their jazz expression as to whether or not classical training would assist or obstruct them?

MARSALIS: Well, if you’re not attracted to classical music, there’s no reason to play it. But the technique on your instrument is not a style of music. If you practice out of the Arban book [brass studies], that’s not classical music: that’s just learning how to attack and slur. So a lot of times kids just don’t want to practice.

GARCÍA: It’s more an issue of discipline.

MARSALIS: Yeah: you have to know how to play your horn to play jazz, anyway.

GARCÍA: I often find that aspiring jazz players that don’t want to pursue classical training then solo only within their familiar, more stale technique. Since jazz lets them play what they want to play, they don’t have to approach the musical improvisations they might hear in their heads that are too tough for them: they just stick to their old material.

MARSALIS: It’s important to learn how to play the material that was written for your instrument. You have to be a classical musician to have some level of interest in it, to know what standard has been set in that style on your instrument. Now if you want to play jazz, well, you have to deal with Clifford Brown or Louis Armstrong: they’ve set a very high standard already. But if you don’t want to learn any music and you just want to play, well, …it’s very hard!

GARCÍA: Through no fault of your own, many students view you as somehow self-taught, that you got it together purely on your own talent. I know different teachers have different strong points that we remember in our own continual pursuit of music. Perhaps you could share a quick sketch of what some specific teachers helped you with when you were growing up in New Orleans.

MARSALIS: The late John Fernandez at Xavier had just a love of the instrument. He would always have national journals around from the New York Conference of Brass: he was just a great inspiration– ;he loved music. George Jansen, my trumpet teacher in high school, was the same way. He taught me about deportment when you’re playing, you know? And he was a big believer in phrasing and in style: man, he loved that Clarke Characteristic Studies book! I also went to John Longo’s house when I was in high school. He was always talking about sound; he taught me all the fundamentals of playing such as slurring, my reading, and everything about the music. My band directors like George Marks….

GARCÍA: He was at De La Salle High School, right?


GARCÍA: Yeah, I remember playing under him in Loyola University’s summer music program, probably during those sessions you and I shared in high school. And you played for awhile under Peter Dombourian, didn’t you?

MARSALIS: Yeah…at Benjamin Franklin High School and also in the New Orleans Community Band. He had a love for music, always encouraged me to play, gave me a chance to play. He knew a lot of music, too. And then Bert Braud was my theory teacher at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). I learned a lot about theory; and he piqued my intellectual interest in music and the history of western music because he was very, very intelligent. He’s the first one that told me I should think about trying to become a composer. That’s a long time ago!

I had so many other teachers: Danny Barker, who just sees the whole thing of “seeds planting music” with a certain feeling–getting the feeling of life into your sound. Well, then my father, you know [Ellis Marsalis]…, the whole way of looking at music I basically got from him.

William Fielder was good friends with John Fernandez, teaching at Mississippi Valley State but coming into New Orleans and stopping at my house. He helped me with breathing and also taught me how to play piccolo trumpet. Norman Smith, who was playing in the New Orleans Philharmonic at that time, taught me a lot about attack and about orchestral style: playing solos and phrases a certain way. He was something!

GARCÍA: And then from there, everybody else you ever played with was your teacher.


GARCÍA: I think it’s important to have that perspective because again, so many people feel as though known musicians arrive at what they do by osmosis; but music and especially jazz is an apprenticeship’s art. Very few people are aware of the opportunities that you sought out from other terrific authorities.

MARSALIS: It’s very important to learn from others.

Looking Ahead

GARCÍA: It seems as though you’ve got a half-dozen things coming up in the next six weeks: your Sony classical release is just coming out, you’re receiving several honorary degrees, you’ve contributed to a movie score, there’s music for the Olympic Games…. What’s on the front burner right now?

MARSALIS: Well, I’m working on a ballet for Alvin Ailey.

GARCÍA: When is that due?

MARSALIS: It was due last month!

GARCÍA: So you’re wondering why you’re talking on the telephone?

MARSALIS: No, I just have to get back to work on it, that’s all!

GARCÍA: You’ve written three ballets previous to this for different companies–is the new one an extended piece?

MARSALIS: Yeah, it’s about thirty minutes long.

GARCÍA: Playing-wise, is there anything in particular that’s coming up for you?

MARSALIS: No, not really.

GARCÍA: You’re really concentrating on the pencil right now.


GARCÍA: Well, then I’ll let you get back to it. Is there anything else you want to get in here?

MARSALIS: Oh, no, you got it, Tony.

GARCÍA: Well, you take care of yourself now!

MARSALIS: Stay on your horn!

GARCÍA: You know it! You, too!

MARSALIS: Yes, indeed–I need to, believe me!

GARCÍA: Horn and pencil!

MARSALIS: Yes, Lord!

by Antonio J. García
Source: Jazz Educators Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1

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