Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis (1996)
Duration: 00:27:47

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Themes: Musical Roots and Branches |

Guests: Wynton Marsalis
Host : Darryl Wood [bio]Darrell Wood hosted the show for ten years from 1988 to 1998 under the title American Black Journal. His shows sought to focus on the skills and talents of many of the nation's leading African-American business people to public television.

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Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: This 1996 program consists of an interview by ABJ host Darryl Wood with renowned trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, who was 34 at the time. The interview provides insight, not just into Marsalis, but also into the nature of jazz music, and more broadly, the role of the artist in society.

In a remarkably detailed conversation, Marsalis outlines his approach to music, and specifically to composition. He asserts, "The artist's job is to interpret the mythology of the people." Marsalis sketches how he goes about interpreting the mythology of the people in the context of jazz music.

Much of his effort is aimed at bringing together divergent styles of jazz. Marsalis compares his artistic approach to a Romare Bearden collage. "A personal statement can be made in any style of jazz music," he states. Marsalis adds that in his work he seeks to encompass the full range of life experience, "from the ecclesiastic to the tawdry, from the outhouse to the penthouse."

Marsalis compares the improvisational nature of jazz to the interaction seen in an interview, where each party is responding to what the other says and does. He discusses how he tailors his compositions whenever possible to the unique strengths of the musicians who will be performing, a practice associated with other jazz composers, such as Duke Ellington. Marsalis' explanation of that process offers an intriguing insight into the creative process.

On a more personal level, Marsalis also talks about the challenges of dealing with fame: the irrational attacks of critics, publicity that is not based on achievement, and the fact that "very little of what's written about you will be about your playing."

The heart - and the strength - of the interview is the focus on the creative process. Marsalis' emphasis on cultivating and preserving jazz is an expression of human experience that transcends issues of musical style or even race. "The fact that Beethoven was German was much less important than his humanity," Marsalis observes.