Wynton Marsalis Speaks Out
AAJ: Over the years, what have you found to be the most difficult part of teaching jazz?
WM: I think the most difficult thing about teaching jazz is a lack of reinforcement. You might teach a really good class, but there's not a lot of reinforcement in the larger society. Many times the best environment to teach in is one where you say something and you teach a certain thing and then students can go out and see that in everyday life. But in the teaching of jazz, our sense of teaching is isolated. That's the most difficult thing to overcome.
AAJ: What are the best ways to overcome the problem?
WM: We need more people interested in it.
AAJ: There seems to be a lot of discussion about this in jazz circles. At IAJE there was a lot of talk about how to spread jazz appreciation among younger audience members. How can we accomplish this?
WM: The way you would do with your own kids. You have to expose them. We have to use whatever sphere of influence we have and take our own kids to concerts, buy the recordings, expose them to it. Through the educational system. Give kids arts education. It doesn't have to just be jazz. The arts are all related. When we give kids the message that the arts are not as important as football, well, naturally they are going to go towards playin' ball. Now I think it's good to play ball with your kid, but it's also good to hear them play an instrument, and indulge their artwork or their poetry. For some reason when we have really little kids we play music with them, we sing music with them, read stories to them, do all these things with them, but when they get older, in third, fourth grade, all of that stops. Arts becomes some isolated thing that is no longer a family thing. We're not interested in what they are doing and it's important for us to maintain our level of interest.
AAJ: Why do you think that happens?
WM: I really don't know why that happens.
AAJ: Do you think one of the problems is funding for the arts?
WM: Well, funding is a problem, but that's not what will keep a parent from encouraging their kid to play a clarinet or read poetry, or take them to the theater or the ballet. That has nothing to do with it.
AAJ: I was thinking of it as a larger cultural problem. If there isn't as much access to the arts, if the artists aren't receiving the support, it diminishes the importance in the community.
WM: I think we need more funding, but we need more interest too. The interest will lead to more funding.
AAJ: It's sort of a catch twenty-two.
WM: It's much easier to elevate interest than it is to get funding, you know what I mean?
AAJ: I want to ask something else about your work in education. You've been so successful at raising interest, and accomplished so much teaching, what about for you? In teaching jazz, what have you learned?
WM: Oh, man, so much. About American history, the pulse of our country, about what it takes, the types of insights it takes to teach students, through teaching I've had the opportunity to focus my own thoughts and learn things, fill in gaps in my own education. So many things. How many different types of people there are, how many different ways a person can be talented.
AAJ: Do you find teaching to be particularly gratifying?
WM: Yeah, I love it.
AAJ: What about teaching makes it so special?
WM: It makes me feel complete, like you're part of a whole circle. You were taught, you teach.
AAJ: How has the jazz scene changed during your career?
WM:...there are more and more people playing now than in the earlier years.
AAJ: So there's been an increase in jazz interest and the number of young people playing?
WM: Definitely, from when I was younger'a lot more.
AAJ: What direction do you think the music is going? What elements do you see as having the most influence?
WM: I don't know...
AAJ: What I'm thinking of is a performance I saw at IAJE by Nicholas Payton. He seemed to be incorporating a lot of Hip-Hop elements, putting an emphasis on dance-ability.
WM: I don't see that as a development in jazz. When you change the rhythm of jazz it becomes another form of music. The heart of jazz is the swing rhythm. If you put a funk rhythm or hip-hop rhythm on something, it becomes hip-hop.
AAJ: So you think that players like Payton and Hargrove are moving outside the realm of jazz?
WM: Yeah, they're going into another form of music.
AAJ: Both of those players performed with you and studied with you in the past. How do you feel about that shift?