Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 9, 2000

Jazz man’s
got game

One-on-one with
Wynton Marsalis

By Tim Ryan


IT'S a lot harder to arrange an interview with Wynton Marsalis than it is to get him to talk, once you've got his attention. The legendary musician wasn't planning any interviews before his long-awaited Saturday concert with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, but after sufficient nagging, Marsalis agreed to a 12-minute interview.

The designated time was 9:13 a.m. and the "focus" was to be the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra World Tour 2000. But like many celebrities, Marsalis was willing to talk about almost anything, opening with the fact that he plays basketball to relax and the claim that he is a "deadly" outside shooter.

Star-Bulletin: You're too short and too old to play under the basket. Besides, who's ever heard of a classical musician playing hoop?

Wynton Marsalis: I don't need to play underneath the bucket the way I shoot.

SB: Aren't you afraid of busting your lip or breaking a finger?

WM: Life is about taking chances.

SB: Ever lose to an old white guy like me?

WM: I lost to one last week. He kept shooting from way downtown then talking about it right in my face.

SB: Guess he didn't know who you are.

WM: Hell he didn't and he didn't let me forget about it. This sorry old man trash talked me the whole game. Never shut up.

SB: Maybe you should have challenged him to a trumpet playing contest.

WM: Not funny.

SB: Or a debate on classical music.

WM: Stop.

SB: You could've shown him your Grammys. That's always impressive before a game of hoops.

WM: Now you're trash talking.

SB: So you're saying you really do have game.

WM: Want to find out reporter man?

SB: Want to talk about the tour, your music, jazz, the career?

"I suppose we should," says Marsalis, laughing. "But I think you used up a lot of those minutes already."

Under the direction of Marsalis, 39, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is the official house band for Jazz at Lincoln Center, the world's largest non-profit arts organization promoting education and understanding of jazz through performance. Jazz at Lincoln Center this season will curate and produce more than 400 performances, educational events, and broadcasts, Marsalis said.

"See I am busy," Marsalis says, chuckling, "but this orchestra really is a total team effort with great musicians working toward the same goal."


Bullet What: Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; World Tour 2000
Bullet When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Bullet Where: Blaisdell Arena
Bullet Cost $15, $25, $35, available at Blaisdell box office and Ticket Plus outlets
Bullet Call: 526-4400 to charge by phone


Trumpet: Seneca Black, Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup, Andre Hayward

Trombone: Vincent Chandler, Ron Westray, Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson

Alto & sopranino saxophones: Ted Nash

Clarinet: Walter Blanding Jr., Victor Goines

Tenor saxophone, clarinet: Joe Temperley

Baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, Clarinet: Farid Barron Piano: Rodney Whitaker

Bass: Herlin Riley

Marsalis believes the power, art and emotional impact of jazz encourages aspiring musicians to learn it or keep "the fire burning" for those who already play it.

"Anyone who wants to learn to play jazz these days has huge obstacles starting in music school," Marsalis said. "There are practically no teachers with jazz backgrounds."

He's angry that music programs are always the first to be cut in schools.

"Do they ever, ever cut a football program?" he says. "Even if it's had a lousy year? No, never. Sheer ignorance. Pure stupidity."

This lack of appreciation for jazz is "shameful" because the music "truly is ours. It was created here," Marsalis said.

Marsalis places jazz securely in black American culture, which he illustrated in his "Black Codes From the Underground" CD; "Blood on the Fields," about slavery; and the three-CD set called "Soul Gestures in Southern Blue," which takes on both jazz's fundamentally black nature and the political and social relationship between African-American and the larger American culture.

Encouraged by his father Ellis, a pianist, composer and teacher, Marsalis took up the trumpet at age six. Brothers, Delfeayo and Branford Marsalis are also well-known musicians.

Soon Wynton was performing with a New Orleans marching band -- he was born in the city -- and playing trumpet concertos with the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra.

By 19, he was a virtuoso trumpeter, a voracious student of jazz music, history and culture. Marsalis joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, toured and recorded with Blakey as well as with other leading jazzmen, including Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter.

He began making records under his own name, then formed his own permanent group with brother Branford.

In 1984, he recorded in London with Raymond Leppard and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, playing concertos by Hayden, Hummell and Leopold Mozart, a side-step which led to his becoming the unprecedented recipient of Grammy Awards for both jazz and classical albums.

By age 30, Marsalis was one of the best-known figures on the international musical stage, and the public face of jazz in America.

Since making his recording debut as a band leader in 1982, Marsalis has recorded more than 30 jazz and classical recordings, winning him eight Grammy Awards. In 1983 he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz Grammys in the same year; he repeated it in 1984.

Then in 1997, Marsalis became the first jazz artist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music, for his oratorio "Blood on the Fields." Marsalis also has been named one of "America's 25 Most Influential People" by Time magazine and one of "The 50 Most Influential Boomers" by Life magazine.


"Yeah, it's always busy, man, and
always will be, but I always have time
for a game of hoops, reporter man."


While his father has been a major influence, Marsalis speaks reverently about the late, great Duke Ellington as "the standard against which I judge myself.

"What comes before you has to be absorbed before you can move on," he said.

While Marsalis sees recording as a way to spread the gospel of jazz, performing is necessary to work the congregation.

"Jazz is music to be heard live and felt in your gut," he says. "You're supposed to react to it; you'd better react to it. That doesn't mean you have to jump around but your feet will tap, your legs will move, your eyes might even glisten and your head will shake a bit."

Marsalis says he doesn't know the level of jazz appreciation in Hawaii, but that doesn't bother him.

"My daddy said to me 'Son, if you don't know, you don't know. You got to go to know.' "

The JLC has just finished a series of concerts in China, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Japan. The Beijing Evening News compared the orchestra's level of mastery to that of the NBA All Stars.

And despite the orchestra's heavy schedule, Marsalis last year released 20 hours of music on 15 CDs -- "Swinging Into the 21st" -- in the ultimate effort to spread the jazz gospel and further his own legend.

"Yeah, it's always busy, man, and always will be, but I always have time for a game of hoops, reporter man."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin