IdeaFestival 2014 #3: Jazz Musician Wynton Marsalis on Art & Creativity in America

Wynton Marsalis

Session: Wynton Marsalis
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
(Kentucky Center)

Wynton Marsalis is the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and a world-renowned trumpeter, bandleader and composer. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1961, Marsalis began his classical training on trumpet at age 12, entered The Juilliard School at age 17, and soon after joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

He made his recording debut as a leader in 1982, and has since recorded more than 70 jazz and classical recordings, which have won him nine GRAMMY® awards and sold over 7 million copies worldwide. In 1983, he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz GRAMMYs® in the same year, repeating the distinction the following year. Today Wynton is the only artist ever to win Grammy Awards® in five consecutive years (1983-1987).

Marsalis is an internationally respected educator, a leading advocate of American culture, and a recipient of honorary doctorates from over 25 of America’s leading academic institutions including Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Princeton, and Yale. He has authored six books including: Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits (Candlewick, 2005), illustrated by poster artist Paul Rogers; Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (Random House, 2008), with Geoffrey C. Ward; and most recently, Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! (Candlewick, 2012), also illustrated by Paul Rogers. In 1997, Wynton became the first jazz artist to be awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Music for his oratorio Blood on the Fields, which was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 2001, he was appointed Messenger of Peace by Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and he has also been named a Cultural Ambassador for Jazz by the U.S. State Department through their Culture Connect program. In 2005 Wynton received The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States government. Wynton’s creativity has been celebrated the world over. Britain’s senior conservatoire, the Royal Academy of Music, granted him Honorary Membership, the Academy’s highest decoration for a non-British citizen. The French Ministry of Culture appointed Wynton the rank of Knight in the Order of Arts and Literature and in the fall of 2009 he received France’s highest distinction, the insignia Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Marsalis was instrumental in the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief concert, produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center. The event raised more than $3 million for the Higher Ground Relief Fund to benefit the musicians, music industry related enterprises, and other individuals and entities from the areas in Greater New Orleans who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Marsalis helped lead the effort to construct Jazz at Lincoln Center’s home— Frederick P. Rose Hall—the first education, performance, and broadcast facility devoted to jazz, which opened its doors in October 2004.

In 2012 he joined CBS News as Cultural Correspondent and in July became Director of Jazz Studies at The Juilliard School. It is Wynton Marsalis’ commitment to the improvement of life for all people that portrays the best of his character and humanity.

I have enjoyed listening to Marsalis half my life.  Therefore it was such a treat listening to him perform in Van Meter last night, and now listening to him talk about his life and work at IdeaFestival.

It is very likely that this was the best Jazz Bowling Green has ever heard.  Many critics agree that his orchestra is simply best large Jazz ensemble performing in the world today.

Key points

  • Inspired by his parents
  • Jazz = improvisation, swing & blues
  • Jazz as synergy
  • blues as how you cope with adversity, build resilience
  • to cultivate creativity in education, offer attractive alternative forms. As in Jazz, agreement on form allows improvisation
  • music & intelligence: strong connection to memory & deep meditation
  • career advice for beginning musicians: Don’t have anything to fall back on
  • important to listen to the whole history of your instrument to develop your sound, your phrases, your story
  • Theolonius Monk is the ‘master of construction’
  • it is important to have a happy internal life
  • On his creative process: ‘I am always late.’ Needs a lot of stress, duress, noise so that he can concentrate better.  Copious background and outlines.  Very meticulous. Works very hard, gets more intense when he gets tired. Integrity is paramount.
  • Difference between playing music and playing with music. The importance of knowledge.
  • We have devalued value, listening. Become a person, come together, join others. There is too much noise today.
  • The old mythology does not work for the US.  It needs a new mythology, such as Walt Whitman’s. Tension between capitalism and democracy.
  • The importance of a positive frame of reference.
  • ‘There is no perfection on earth. The piano does not care about you or your teacher. What are you making out of it?’
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