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ASK THE ARTIST - WYNTON MARSALIS

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

In this column, JOI will be asking YOUR questions to well-known jazz artists.

The first artist featured here is American virtuoso trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis.


Wynton and Kenny - Photo Credit: Unknown

After his trip to Korea, JOI spoke to Wynton via telephone. Here are his answers to your questions:


Where should I start from as a beginner in jazz? (submitted by Bra Godfred)

“You can start by building a circle. First, find an a song that you like and an instrument in that song that catches your ear. Listen for different things about the song that appeal to you. Let you ear guide you. Also, find out what the artist whose music you like is listening to and let that broaden your musical horizons.”


In learning jazz, what style would you recommend working on first, and why? (submitted by Christopher Caswell-Rice)


“With a young musician, I would first expose them to avant-garde music. The reason is there are no restrictions as to form and style. This allows their minds and ears to be open. Also Eastern music with its use of pentatonics is particularly important for beginners.”


What advice do you have for an aspiring composer? (submitted by Austin Ali)


Never limit your self to just one style of music. Study and application of any style will deepen your development and make you grow as an artist and composer. Let your ear and your heart lead you in what you like and what you want your music to say.”


What style of music for a big band arrangement do you find most challenging and why? (submitted by Whitney Marchelle)


“Composing for a big band can be challenging. The more popular and standard styles such as swing are easier to employ so the most challenging are the styles that are less frequently performed. Part of that challenge is understanding the meaning of what you wish to say through music and to bring it to life.”


How has your approach to improvisation evolved over the years? What have you recently been shedding on your horn? (submitted by Benjamin Paille)


“My approach to improvisation has evolved greatly over the years. I have developed many techniques and the ability to approach the music from many different angles. Through this, I have developed a deeper understanding of music. I have recently been working my way through the Arban 14 Characteristic Studies ”


Some people say that jazz isn’t expressed the way it used to be; that it doesn’t have the same feel as it did in its prime, because people think there’s a set way to learn to play jazz. What is your opinion on this? (submitted by Michael McLaughlin)


“In its early and formative years, Jazz was performed at a very high level. This was because, in those years, jazz was very competitive. More competition led to more musicians being employed playing jazz. That high level and competition is difficult to sustain nowadays. In its present state, jazz and other types of music are more about style than musicianship” 


Do you feel that institutionalized jazz education has impacted the innovation and exploration of new sounds, rhythms, and music? 

(submitted by Michael McLaughlin)


“I don’t believe that institutionalized jazz education has served the music at all. Rather, it serves the politics of music and other issues and fosters corruption in all levels of our musical society.”


Jazz doesn’t care what you look like or where you’re from. The ideals found in jazz are the answer to overcoming race and other discrimination issues. 

How do you see jazz as being an answer to current racial and other prejudices and how can jazz heal our communities? (submitted by MarkRappMusic)


“Jazz encourages listening and empathy unlike an other form of music. It also has a history of integration. The players were more about a musician’s ability rather than his nationality or the color of his skin. Although TV and the cinema didn’t portray this so much, the bands of the past supported and practiced this integration of musicians. The best of jazz music gave us a vision of how our country could and should be. If we had chosen to embrace that vision, our country today would be different. 


Music is a democracy, a negotiation, an agreement among the musicians to chase the elusive rhythm. It takes discipline to want the best for the other musicians in the group and to help them honor the music.”


Your father has dedicated much of his life to jazz performance and education. Has Mr. Marsalis’ dedication to education influenced you and molded your dedication to jazz education? 


“Yes it has. It has influenced me very much”.


For the future of all music, jazz and all genres - Do you believe it’s important for us to look back so we can go forward? 


“I would say to look in no direction. You can only be present and go forward and create your own future. The future is unknown and is not divorced from the past.

In no other field of music except jazz is the feeling that past knowledge is bad. We tend to fear the greatness of the past. We should not fear it, we should embrace it.”


Do you have a favorite song that you like to perform? What is it and why does it mean so much to you?


“I don’t have a favorite song that I like to perform. I have many songs that I like to perform for different reasons”


Every major jazz artist has an interesting story behind a nickname that has been bestowed upon them? Can you share the story behind your nickname?


[Wynton laughs at this question]

“Yeah. I have a nickname. It’s Skain.”

[He spells it out for me. I ask him if I can have the story behind his nickname]

“To be honest, I’ve had that nickname so long, that I don’t remember the story behind it’"


Every month the JOI Newsletter features a prominent artist in jazz. 

Next month’s featured artist will be Christian McBride.

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