Famous trumpet player Wynton Marsalis spreads gospel of committment to young people through music

Practice. As in dedication. Also see: integrity.

Every time he gets a chance, Wynton Marsalis lays a message on young people that requires no fancy instrument, just a solo commitment.

The jazz and classical trumpeter and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer got that chance recently at a Passport to Manhood program in the gym of the Boys & Girls Club of New Rochelle. He shot some hoops — hitching up his suspenders and complaining that he hadn’t worked on his game in the two years it took to write his last symphony. He shared a meal of dirty rice, fried fish and potato salad, then delivered the challenge.

You have a choice, he told the teenagers. What you have to offer the world, he said, is your integrity. Be dependable. Keep your word. Commit to yourself to “be present,” to focus on being “right here, right now.” Watch what comes out of your mouth.

And work at it. That’s how you get to be anything.

Marsalis worked from the same chart a few days later to the high school musicians from Ohio who stayed after a performance in Rose Hall of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It’s not easy, he said, practicing five or six hours while other kids were out having fun.

“It was lonely,” he said, “but to improve, you have to sacrifice, and do what most of your peers are not willing to do. If it takes getting up before sunrise in the morning to study, or burning the midnight oil at night, do what you have to do. But it’s also important to balance work with some type of social activity, or you won’t have any life to express.”

“What do you most like to play?” asked a young man.

Marsalis didn’t hesitate.

“The blues, man, the blues. The first songs I learned to play in New Orleans were blues.”

And that’s how you learn to face the slings and arrows that come when you stand on principle.

“When I first came on the scene, some of the older musicians, who could play better than me, resented the attention I got,” he said. “I was also very opinionated, so I received a lot of criticism. Many in my own field were against me. I just didn’t realize it would last for 25 years.”

Marsalis used the life of Frederick Douglass and the Camelot stories of King Arthur as examples, but he also talked about the dedication of blues guitarist Eric Clapton. The two will play together tonight at the annual Jazz at Lincoln Center spring gala and again at sold-out concerts Friday and Saturday.

“Keep in mind, young men, this is a benefit, so he’s doing it free of charge,” Marsalis said of Clapton. “For three hours, we went over all 13 songs, and every aspect of every groove of each song. Then he wanted to pay for my dinner.

“He went home and sent me some electronic messages with him playing the different grooves that he was talking about on different songs. That’s a level of dedication and seriousness that I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered.”

As artistic director of the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to jazz, Marsalis makes sure that the blues are represented in each season of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“Blues is the essence of American music,” he said at the New Rochelle roundtable. “Blues is the core folk music, one of the key elements of jazz.

“And it’s not just Afro-American, there’s country music and Anglo-American folk singing, too. Ultimately, there’s a tradition of blues in all of our cultures. But we’ve forgotten that. Our nation is suffering from a profound identity crisis.”

The confusion over American identity is one of the main reasons Marsalis, father of four, makes time for young people.

As he told the group at the Boys & Girls Club: “When I go to really rough schools, some of the worst boys respond to the respect and love I show them with tears. They can feel it when someone who cares affirms them, and speaks to them with love. They crave that. All kids do.”

by Greg Thomas
Source: NY Daily News

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