Interview with Wynton Marsalis (Part 1): Detailed discussion with audio clips of Wynton’s major opus, Congo Square, a two-CD set combining the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Odadaa! (the West African drum ensemble led by Yacub Addy).
Interview with Wynton Marsalis (Part 2): A casual blindfold test of classic trumpet solos including Wynton’s parsing of improvising procedures on “Knozz-Moe-King” from Live at Blues Alley. This section also includes general thoughts on race and education from Wynton.
The “J” Word: My own opinions about some of the music and controversies connected to Wynton Marsalis.
I wasn’t planning to give Wynton a “blindfold test,” but he seemed to want to hear these trumpet solos without me telling him anything in advance. When, after one phrase, he sang along with almost the whole first solo, I knew I was in the right place.
(Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones: “Blues by Five” from Cookin’, 1956.)
WM: I remember that. When I was in high school I listened to that. I think it’s called “Blues by Five.”
EI: Now that’s fucking swinging!
WM: A lot of what Miles is playing is like Louis Armstrong. That’s good organization. H’mm: again, piano players are always playing like the snare drum, though.
Good interplay between him and Philly. Him and Philly Joe Jones – they loved each other. Like they had a real close relationship. They would go on the road together and just play gigs, pick up other cats in the band. I had the chance to hang with Philly Joe Jones and rap with him a lot about that.
The thing is they had a similar type of intelligence. Philly Joe Jones: Very smart. Very, very smart. Miles also. Very smart. Philly had a lot of range of interests too, reading and a lot of stuff. That type of intelligence comes out in their playing.
And the trumpet and the drum are always connected. You know, the first depiction of a trumpet is on a kind of a vase. It’s on a vase, an Egyptian vase, with drummers. We’re always with drummers. In a Haydn Symphony, the trumpet and drums play together.
That solo is such a good organization of ideas. Miles, by that time, had really worked on how he organized the material in his solos so he could go from one point to another. Umm. Good. You know.
What I also like about it that it sounds like “local” music too. You know what I’m talking about? It sounds like people in a room playing. Cats out of tune a little bit. But it’s got a local sound. You can hear the camaraderie. Paul Chambers all out of tune but playing all kinds of bad shit. You know what I mean?
EI: Chambers sounds incredible. He’s so young them.
WM: Nice lope on his swing. You can feel the ebb and flow.
Miles and Philly Joe: they’re taking up a lot of space, but they leave space, too. They play good with each other. Real good. There’s a lot of interesting dialogue with them that later was continued with him and Tony. That kind of trumpet-drum thing.
(Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington big band with Jimmy Woode and Sam Woodyard, “U.M.M.G.” from Jazz Party, 1959. The above photo is from that session.)
WM: Dizzy. Man! That’s one of the great solos. Sometimes you can listen to a track and you can hear other people listening to somebody. There’s an Aaron Copland record like that with William Warfield singing Copland’s Old American Songs, and on one of the songs I can hear the orchestra listening to him.
This is also one of those moments. I can hear Duke Ellington’s band listening to Dizzy.
Dizzy was ready. He said he used to play that on the piano for a long time before he had to record it. Duke gave him that song, he said, “Shit.” He was ready harmonically. [I regret not following up on this thread in the conversation; I later realized that this Strayhorn piece and Gillespie’s famous and style-defining “Woody’n You” are both in D-flat and highlight the half-diminished chord, something Wynton may be getting at here.]
That’s a hard tune to play. You hear a lot of where Miles came in there, too, when Dizzy plays in a real syncopated style.
Dizzy’s another very intelligent guy. His intelligence comes through in his playing – when he stops, what he decides to do … this and that – very sophisticated harmonically and rhythmically.
EI: This is one of the greatest Dizzy solos I ever heard, you know. I’m actually not a student of his playing like I am of some, but when I first heard this solo, I said, “Man, he really feels the heat.” Or something…
WM: Oh, he was putting the heat on them.
Although Dizzy loved Duke and respected him. And everybody knew who he was. Believe me, Duke’s trumpet section knew who Dizzy Gillespie was. Clark Terry and everybody else, they wasn’t up there saying, “Let’s see if he can play.” It was like a thing – a generation of cats… He loved all of them. And all of those guys came from a similar spirit of the age.
When Dizzy was a boy, he looked up to Duke. He saw a film with Duke on it and Duke was clean and he was like, “Damn, I want to be like this.” Duke meant a lot to black people at that time. There wasn’t any minstrel shit. That meant a lot. Kind of what Miles Davis meant to people in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He kind of had that feeling of the younger musicians. This was a guy, early modern and getting far away from the minstrel thing.
But Dizzy was Dizzy Gillespie too. In a way, it’s gleeful. He wants to show them, “Okay, I’m here with you all.”
EI: I’m a true devotee of those few special tracks showcasing non-Ellington master soloists sitting in with Duke. I also think of Coleman Hawkins playing “Mood Indigo.”
WM: Wow! That whole record, man.
EI: And then “In a Sentimental Mood” with Coltrane and Duke. (And Elvin: the way Elvin plays on that track!) Or the way Max and Mingus play on “Fleurette Africaine.” Or this track with Dizzy.
WM: Me and Jon Faddis talked about that solo once. I said, “Man, that damn solo Dizzy played on that.” Because Faddis knows so much music, too. Not just Dizzy’s music, but Faddis knows a whole pile of music. He’d be interesting for you to talk to, man. He did a transcription in Downbeat of this solo, and I studied it.
EI: In the first chorus when he’s playing the melody you get to hear him do his paraphrase of that great melody and how elegant it is.
WM: Pure sophistication. He waited. He played something he really didn’t want to play at one point but he worked with it.
EI: There’s one thing about Dizzy. He takes chances and not everything always comes out exactly right. I like that.
WM: He’s phenomenal.
He’s the one who really carried the tradition. Remember what I was telling you about keeping the memory of the music? He kept the memory of the music for the musicians that came after him. He didn’t eschew Roy Eldridge.
EI: That’s for sure.
WM: He moved around the corner from Pops. Dizzy used to tell me all the time, “Man, it’s not an achievement to lose your orchestral music.” He was very deep, very interesting – rapping with him. Because he would always say to me, “Keep that Lincoln Center music thing going. Don’t just play small band music. You want to because it’s less hassle. But keep this. Keep it. You’ve got to keep the resonance of the music. If it don’t resonate in the culture, keep it resonant in you. Because it’s easy to lose it. If you’ve got that thread, you can find your way back. If you lose that thread, you can’t find your way back. You can listen to it on records, but playing it is different from hearing it.”
When he plays, you can hear what I call his “super syncopation.” The rhythm is played with a harmon mute that allows you to play soft with a lot of accent. When you play it at a certain volume, a soft volume, and with a lot of accent, it even has more force than with a microphone. It allows you to be much more nuanced as well as powerful. It’s one of the advantages of when you play that instrument at a fast tempo. Use that mute at a faster tempo. You can hear every tongue, every articulation.
EI: I’m eating this up, by the way.
(Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, “East Broadway Run Down” from East Broadway Run Down, 1966.)
WM: Never heard this solo.
EI: It’s “East Broadway Run Down” from the Sonny Rollins record.
WM: Never heard it. That was bad. Some bad shit. But it’s not bad because of the architecture of it or even the kind of exuberance of Freddie Hubbard with this big sound, playing in different registers.
EI: Incredible time is just pumping out of his horn.
WM: The rhythm section is, you know – bad!
EI: For sure! Definitely.
WM: Do you know what I’m saying? It’s just – it’s more the flamboyance of it. Making the space at a certain time, making decisions. You can hear it. It feels like jazz, you know. It has a feeling to it. And Freddie’s feeling is so unique and so much him. It’s so personal. The communication is not in the technical breakdown of it. (Although you would be like, “Damn!” if you looked at that, too.) It’s just the exuberant intention of it. It’s got a lot of joy in it. Very youthful.
EI: He was a very young man.
I don’t think you’ll know this next one – we’ll see.
(Thad Jones, Frank Strozier, John Gilmore, McCoy Tyner, Butch Warren, Elvin Jones, “Contemporary Focus” from Today and Tomorrow, 1964.)
WM: Who’s that?
EI: It’s Thad Jones.
WM: Thad? No, no. I never heard that.
EI: It’s called “Contemporary Focus” from a McCoy Tyner record.
WM: It don’t even sound like him. Really. You know what I mean?
EI: I know what you mean.
WM: What’s interesting about him is sometimes he’ll play the time really high on the beat, you know. Roll it back again. Let me just hear what he’s playing again.
WM: When the backgrounds came in, it took him out of his thought. He was hearing a certain thing and had to stop.
EI: Backgrounds can do that to you, especially if you’re a piano player, I can tell you that much: those goddamned backgrounds will get in your way every time.
It’s a beautiful solo, though, I think.
WM: Yeah. That was bad. That was some bad shit. In a way it had a similar thing to Booker Little. Thad is older than Booker but it’s got a certain kind of intelligence and organization and a kind of pathos in their sound. Booker has it a lot. But Thad can get to that. I can hear it in that.
EI: For me it’s interesting to hear him play on one chord and do it so comfortably. It’s not what I associate with him.
WM: I think by this time, all the cats played on one chord. Thad was writing music and arrangements so he’s hearing a lot more of the shit than the average guy anyway. He’s not limited by too much!
I didn’t really know Thad.
EI: I think you knew the next trumpet player.
(Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, Ronnie Mathews, Stafford James, Louis Hayes, “Fenja” from Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard, 1977.)
[During the playback, Wynton made gestures that he didn’t like the piano comping and, especially, he didn’t like the bass sound. ]
WM: Mmmm. Notice how he’s playing like a half-step above the chord.
EI: You knew him a bit, right.
WM: Yeah, I knew him well.
EI: I think he’s underrated actually.
WM: Trumpet players like him. I mean, he’s not underrated among trumpet players. He wrote a lot of interesting music. When I came to New York, he was the one who was holding the mainstream down and had a forward looking way he was dealing with his group. You could depend on him. He would be swinging every time you heard him.
Back then I would go out a lot, man. That’s when they had the clubs like the Tin Palace, Jazz Mania, the Jazz Alley, 7th Avenue South, the Village Vanguard – now, only the Vanguard’s still here. I would go hear Woody Shaw all the time. He was always playing.
Back then the question would be, a lot of times, when you would go hear people, “Are they gonna be bullshitting or not?” You never knew. Sometimes they would be playing funk tunes. But with him – he was always up on top of playing.
EI: Some of his melodies snake through the changes in a way I never heard anyone else do quite like that before or since.
WM: Right. He’s got a certain concept of time and also how he interprets the harmony. Everyone is always talking about him using fourths. But the foundation of his playing was not fourths. In fact, here he was not playing a lot of fourths. He’s playing just kind of traditional, basic harmony.
I think he had perfect pitch too. He could hear this concept of how he wanted to play. He liked to play really long lines. Even when he stopped he would be continuing a line that he played. In this solo a couple of times, he stops, but when he starts again, he’s continuing what he was playing.
EI: Almost on the same breath sometimes.
WM: Right. Right. He was an interesting guy. He had a lot of ambition for the music that he didn’t realize, you know. He had a lot of stuff that he wanted to do. But he held it down at a rough time.
EI: You might recognize this one too.
(Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, Robert Hurst, Jeff Watts, “Knozz-Moe-King” from Live at Blues Alley, 1986.)
WM: Some sad shit. [He said this within 3 seconds of the track starting.]
Me and Tain are not really playing together.
EI: You’re aren’t?
WM: No, we’re not. We’re not playing together. Marcus is playing with me. But not him. We’re not in sync.
EI: I never thought that listening to it.
WM: Yeah. It’s not together.
EI: It’s “going for it” though.
WM: Yeah, he’s playing, and we’re playing, but…there’s a difference. If you listen to that track with Miles and Philly Joe Jones – they’re playing with each other.
[For this next crucial section, I have included the audio file where you can hear Wynton’s discussion of how the structure of “Knozz-Moe-King” works, which doesn’t make much sense on the page.]
Yeah, I can hear it now. I haven’t listened to that since we recorded it. That was 22 years ago. That’s a long time. I’m setting out to play a certain thematic thing. He’s not with me.
We’re just playing. It’s okay. It’s all right.
I don’t think anybody else ever played no shit like that.
EI: That’s for sure.
WM: But it ain’t no good.
EI: You don’t think it’s any good? C’mon.
WM: It’s all right. We’re not playing together. We’re not really playing with each other.
EI: I admit that I’ve never known what was going on, and I’ve always liked that.
WM: I can show you what’s going on. Go back. I’m going to show you what’s happening.
Okay, it’s a concept we have called… Where you’re supposed to set up a rhythmic stretto with different rhythms and then you resolve them. But people give cues when you resolve it. Here’s an example. I wrote that. Now, I didn’t know he was going to go “ting-ting-t-ting.” He never does, that’s what he did that time. Now I’m going to start grooving in his rhythm. “t-t-t-t-ting,” Marcus does it too. Okay, now he finishes it. I’m leaving him a gap to answer me. I’m keeping that theme going. Marcus is going to start answering me now. See… How he’s playing that rhythm. So I hear them doing that. He [Tain] should’ve stayed up there. I played that theme. That means come out of that rhythm that you’re playing. (EI: Ahh!) But he didn’t do it. He’s not listening to what I’m playing. Check it out. Cause I need a certain amount of breath or I can’t keep playing. If you hear that long phrases of… No, it’s not long. I’m playing. It’s the end of the cymbal. It’s almost like a breakdown a little bit. I was telling him, “When I give you the end of a phrase, you need to listen – cause I’m going to run out of air,” so, I’m still gonna figure out how to resolve the phrase. First way they broke down, he should have stayed on the cymbal. When we improvise in that style I have to latch on to whatever they all are playing. See, Marcus peeped it [missed] so he fills the space up. That’s the style. Now he says… I had to stop places. When he sees I don’t play. He didn’t expect me to play in when I played. Normally I would but I had to take a breath. Shit. Now they are playing two different – two five rhythms on opposite sides of the beat. I’m hearing what they’re doing. So, in other words: he’s going “ding ding – ding ding.” Marcus is going “d’goon’t d’goon’t…” Check it out. Now, he caught that one. [Laughing] That’s the first time he played with me was just there. Do you know what I’m saying?
EI: Well, I hear what you’re saying…!
WM: I played what he played. Check it out. Then I took his theme that he played and I start playing with it. “Bruuuup.” He’s playing that rhythm. That’s what he played. [missed in here] I used to sing the rhythms to him. Like, “Do this.” The rhythm that he played came out of the time I was playing in. “Shog at – shog at – shog at.” [Etc… – better listen to the tape!] That’s an example of them catching it. What I would do, when you were getting ready to end a rhythm that you’re spending on [not sure of this phrase] you have to give a cue. That cue is when I stop repeating that phrase. Now if you listen to them playing the same rhythm again displaced. Now if you play… displaced on the other side of the beat. I’m trying to listen to Bob. Check it out. Now, there’s a cue…
EI: He’s on it though.
WM: On that one. He should’ve been on the shit before! [Laughing – more missed] He’s waiting. He should’ve been on it before I was in three. [more missed] Again. 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3, he caught that one too. 123 123 123 [clapping]… That was good. You see what I’m saying? He caught that one too. 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3. He wants to play fives now. I’m going to go back to my theme. It’s a diminished theme. [Sings, and mimes Marcus Roberts’s pure diminished chords in response, pleased.] When I heard that rhythm that he played – that’s why I tried to fit my rhythm to the side of that… I haven’t played like that in so long, I forgot about it.
EI: I don’t know, man. That’s pretty bad shit. It leads off the record, so you must have liked it enough at the time.
WM: Then, at the time, yeah. At that time that was what we played. [Sings the diminished theme twice more.]
EI: I think that’s an important band – that quartet.
[Tape part ends]
WM: Yeah. We had a good time with it. It was good. We played. People liked it. But when I got the septet is when the people really started liking the music. It was interesting. The musicians liked that music less. I think! I don’t know…
EI: You’re right.
WM: The musicians liked the Blues Alley band. But the people liked the septet more.
EI: I will say that I saw the septet live. I never got to see the quartet, I was too young. But I saw the septet in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in about 1989 or ’90. I was still in high school.
EI: It was Marcus and Herlin and Reginald Veal. I think Todd Williams.
WM: Todd, yeah.
EI: The message was very strong I will say.
WM: It was.
EI: It was.
WM: People, at that time – they would always say, “That was much better than that other shit you was doing.” That was just the general vibe. Promoters, people would come back and they’d be like, “That shit there. Keep them. Don’t do that other shit.” [extended laughter]
The other way we played just started to get boring. It was just loud.
EI: I don’t think you realize how influential this record and Marsalis Standard Time Volume One is.
WM: I swear I don’t.
EI: I tell you. For one thing, Dave King, the drummer in The Bad Plus, knows these records backwards. Reid Anderson listened to them too.
It’s not just us: people know about the rhythm section proposal on display here with Marcus and Jeff firing like that. You can hear it everywhere on the scene today.
WM: We played it a lot of course. People came to the gigs and checked it out.
EI: Marsalis Standard Time is almost like a dictionary or something. It’s very clear.
WM: Yeah. It’s just three or four different times against each other: quarter note time, triplet time… You know what I mean? It’s like what Mingus was doing but in another incarnation. Those time changes are put on songs. “April in Paris” – to play a third above the time – it’s hard. I know I never heard nobody try to do it on the trumpet. It’s difficult. I had to think about it a long time just to survive on it. I played good on it just to survive.
Ultimately it’s interesting. I still like it. I will still put time changes in all my music. But, ultimately, for me, it ended up being like meals with Tabasco Sauce. Tabasco sauce is great but – shit – without Tabasco Sauce is good too.
EI: I remember seeing you play at the Jazz Standard, maybe around 2003 with Ali Jackson as the leader. It was Greg Osby, Aaron Goldberg and Robert Hurst.
WM: Yeah, I remember that gig.
EI: You and Bob were playing together for the first time in a long while.
WM: A long time, yeah.
EI: There was a tune. It might have been “Autumn Leaves.” All of a sudden you and Bob…
WM: Started playing that time…
EI: It was so incredible in that moment. It was like: “Check out what those guys know: this language that only they know!”
WM: We used to work on that, man. Playing in different times and stuff like that. It was fun. It was interesting stuff.
[At this point in the interview, Wynton and I had been going non-stop for over four hours. He invited me to join him while he took his kids outside for a minute and bring my tape recorder if I wanted to keep talking. We went over to a nearby open-air basketball court where Wynton hangs out all the time. (He’s lived in the same place for about twenty years; I suspect everybody in the area knows him. By name he greeted the doorman, the people on the corner, a grocer…I felt like I was walking next to the Mayor or something.) What’s left is a collection of the interesting bits rather than the whole tape.]
EI: You go into the schools, right?
WM: I’ve been in many of them, thousands of them. I haven’t been doing it the last 4 or 5 years. I had to step back.
EI: I feel a certain anxiety about people knowing something about jazz and the jazz tradition. I’m a white guy born in Wisconsin in 1973. Everything I know about jazz is just because I had this passion for it for some reason – but no culture. Jazz culture wasn’t part of my upbringing.
WM: Yes, it was. You’re an American. You heard the blues somewhere.
EI: I don’t think so, man. Only modern country and radio rock, that’s all I knew, or would have known if I didn’t go get it myself.
I feel tension about how little people know and respect some basic shit about jazz. And, compared to someone like you, I’m not even involved! I can only imagine the tension and frustration you feel sometimes about trying to get the message through.
WM: Most of the time in the schools, I wouldn’t even be talking to them about jazz. I mean the bad schools. It would end up where I wasn’t even be talking about music, instead, it was just about basic things like having manners.
People just need confidence and leadership, man. It boils down to having somebody who loves them, not a person that’s exploiting them or wants something.
I didn’t get paid to go to schools, I wanted to go. I don’t think I ever got paid to go to any schools. Maybe once or twice but of the thousands of schools… I went to a lot of schools over 20 years. I taught a lot of kids. For me it’s more like the love the kids have that’s important. Like these kids out here [in the basketball court] – they ain’t no different from kids nowhere to me. Wisconsin. White. Black. I don’t give a fuck. I mean it’s kind of a legacy of our way.
But over the years I became more positive about it than frustrated. It’s hard to explain… Stuff just doesn’t take place in the time frame that you think it’s going to. But there is some general rightness about teaching people – letting them know about the culture and not being hostile to them and/or acting like they owe you something.
They don’t know. I go back to when I was with Roy Eldridge. I didn’t know who he was. He got mad at me cause I didn’t know who he was. I understand that now. I mean, I knew he was great then but I didn’t really know who he was. I was into Marvin Gaye and James Brown. I knew some Miles and some Freddie Hubbard but I wasn’t with it yet. In time, I said, “Okay. Okay. I understand now.”
WM: I’ve been lucky. Everywhere I go – I come out and I get treated with respect. I basically treat people like that in return. I’m cool. You and me standing here talking. You don’t have to have your tape recorder on. You understand what I’m saying?
It’s what I believe. All of that comes from this music. I’ve learned so much from this music. How to treat people. How to be. When I left New Orleans I was mad, man. My upbringing was so hard, man. You know I had a hard time. I took it hard. All this shit. Not just dealing with white people. You had a lot of shit to deal with if you wanted to survive a certain way. Everybody does.
The music taught me a lot about being a human being and about dealing with people in the world. With those lessons, I’ve been blessed beyond belief. I can’t even describe it. Just the blessing of the insight of the music. Playing and being given the opportunity to develop a musicianship, to be able to form a coalition of people around something like the music, being able to go to thousands of schools and talk to people’s kids. I’ve done over twenty-something – 2400 gigs – 2500 gigs and at almost every gig somebody comes backstage with their kids. I’ve got thousands of letters. One day, when I’m old and I’m depressed, I’m going to pull those letters out.
I had guy come in from Chicago with a bunch of kids from West Chicago, some of his roughest kids. He said, “Man, I brought these kids all of the way here to your thing cause I knew you love these kids and you would talk to them. Can you talk to my kids?”
Man, I put my hand on the one kid and started talking to him and he started crying. You know these were kids that you would look at and think…[that they were lost for good].
My thing has always been to be honest with motherfuckers and tell them what I thought. It don’t mean it’s right. But what I’m telling you, I’m going to tell them. I don’t have no two groups. I don’t assume a white person is going to like me because I’m distancing myself from these people. [Looking at the basketball court.] I don’t assume they’re going to like me because I’m distancing myself from you. Fuck, you’re here with me. I’m not going to distance myself from you cause of them.
EI: That’s hard to do for most people, including me.
WM: It’s not hard for me.
EI: You were born with that one, huh.
WM: I fit in where I’m at. I’m a human being.
WM: I’ve been misunderstood, but I have nothing to be bitter about. Man, I’m not. I’ve had a great fucking time. Like any of these guys, any of my guys… Like I told you, my man, Jay – he’s like my son to me. I could rely on him. He’s got integrity. We’ve been through a lot of shit. I’ve seen him go through a lot from when he was a boy. It’s not like a thin bond. It’s years.
This shit these motherfuckers be writing about – jazz journalists and all…I don’t know what that shit is, man. I’m just out here playing music and writing. I’ve got kids. That shit is childish. When you’re 20 or 21 you got time for that shit. I’m 46. You know what I’m saying? A lot of them talk to me like I’m 19. I’ve got a boy that’s 19. I’m not 19.
Over the years I just realized it’s going to come out the way it does. A philosophical perspective does not make you unhappy if you know how to be happy. Me and this one [Jay] had so many fucking good times. Oh, shit. If I wrote some of that in a book! Just the times we’ve had. Hanging out. Playing. Closing clubs down. My main man.
EI: What about the AACM community and that sort of scene?
WM: I just talked with George Lewis and them last week. I don’t really know. I didn’t know them. I know Kidd Jordan in New Orleans, I never hung with them or nothing. I played with Lester Bowie for a little while, but I didn’t really know them.
I talked with Muhal and Roscoe Mitchell last week too. Regardless of the style of music that we play, like I was telling you, we are all unique musicians. For all that “talking bullshit in print” that we do, I never had a conflict with a musician in person. Ever. I’m 46. What’s my chance of having one if I didn’t have a conflict with them when I was in my twenties?
And I mean a musician of any style. Funk, rap, hip hop – even if they know I hate their music. Me and Chuck D, we don’t have a problem with each other.
EI: I’m reading this George Lewis book right now, A Power Stronger Than Itself.
WM: Yeah. I started reading it. A big book.
EI: It’s really good. I actually brought you a record. [Nonaah.] I never really checked out the AACM much before and just began exploring a little bit with the help of the book. I found this one Roscoe record that I really dig. There’s a piece with four saxophones on it that I want you to hear at some point. I’ll leave it with you.
WM: Yeah, I’ll check it out.
EI: It’s not swinging.
EI: But it’s pretty fucking intense.
WM: It’s improvised music.
EI: Well, this piece is very composed too. They play this one riff. They play it over an over again for about three minutes before breaking out.
WM: A lot of times they said it wasn’t jazz. They called it Creative Black Music.
“Jazz” – for a name that nobody wants – there’s been a lot of contest around it.
EI: Yeah, that’s true.
WM: I started saying at the beginning – I like the name of it. I like the music. I don’t have any problems with it. But it’s got to have a meaning. Everything can’t be it, if only because you can’t teach it to other people.
That’s a very pragmatic way to look at it. If I take my kid out here and say, “Everything that you do is basketball,” I can’t teach him how to play. You apply that to any field. You’re going to have a problem teaching people, if it don’t have a meaning. It’s great for you if you can realize something that intensely broad. But you’re going to have trouble with your next generation. Because to learn everything is hard.
And if there’s no standard of excellence, the most competitive students will not want to play. Maybe that will happen when the world becomes really advanced. That’s like “super-advanced” where there won’t be any concept of attainment…!
EI: I told Stanley Crouch this too, when I interviewed him: Part of me is getting more conservative because when I was younger I felt more like everything was jazz, but not so much anymore.
WM: In our world, in our era, that’s actually the conservative viewpoint because everybody holds that. You’re becoming more radical!
EI: Exactly. I’m becoming more radical. [Note: I don’t really believe this; I’m getting old and grumpy.]
WM: The thing about conservatism is the comfort of numbers. Everybody agrees.
EI: I’ll tell you one thing: since The Bad Plus really got going and toured the world, I’ve gotten to hear a lot at the jazz festivals in Europe and other places. Frankly, I’m rather appalled at the state of things on some basic level. That’s why I’m trying to write about music on the blog, and part of why I want to talk to you about it. Sort of to say, “A lot of shit has gotten done that has had a lot of integrity and more people should be more aware of precisely what that entailed.”
WM: That’s not conservatism, that’s just education.
EI: Like I was telling you: something snapped; I lost my mind when none of those kids recognized “Carolina Shout.”
WM: Think if you were black!
EI: That’s what I was trying to get to at before…
WM: Suppose you saw a group of people who produced the greatest music and musicians in the world and at the end of it you end up with less than the scraps on the table.
[Wynton is now discussing hip hop. I have to editorialize here and say that, in the future, black music and music in general will hardly dust the marvelous movement of hip hop under a rug. However, I also think hip hop could use a lot more harmony and a hell of a lot less bling, and if Wynton and Stanley Crouch’s constant vociferous criticism helps move it along, I’m all for it.]
Because now we have musicians in public insulting each other.
Insulting our women in public.
Not playing music.
Pretending you shot a brother and went to jail or did something to some black people and now have the worst taste in the world.
Don’t know whether somebody can play.
Clap on 1 and 3 on anything that don’t have a big backbeat on it.
See, now, I know that to be the case. When I’m talking to you, I’m talking as an insider.
People need education. It should be our right for our whole country. You’d be taught how to listen to stuff. That’s not a revolutionary concept. People know it takes education to learn things – whether shooting a basketball, writing with your writing hand, putting a suit on, shining your shoes – there’s education all the time.
But someone like me has had to deal with a counter-education movement. How can you be against education? It’s possible when there’s the element of racism. You don’t know it for sure, because it continues from generation to generation in subtle ways, and you don’t realize that when you’re in school. You can’t see yourself in that position.
But they will see it. What will happen is when the time is all gone and enough will be at stake somebody will take a real look at it. “Oh, okay, that’s what that was: these people fought back.”
That’s why it’s important for us to keep that thread going. That’s when the thread is going to be important. It might not even be over the music. It might be philosophical. It might be as simple as when Dizzy saw Duke Ellington with a suit on and not doing a minstrel show. That’s a lot. That’s what it seems like to me. He said, “I saw him and I thought – wow! This guy is not doing the minstrel.” It might be as simple as somebody seeing you and me together. That’s how simple shit is. ‘Those two guys. I wonder what they were doing.'”
EI: I guess that’s the right note to end on! I’ll finally turn this machine off.