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Wynton Marsalis Speaks Out

By Published: February 27, 2004
WM: I feel that it's important for each musician to make their own choice about what kind of music they feel like playing. Or to play different styles. They're capable of playing many different styles. If they choose to play hip-hop it's just another style they can play.

AAJ: The audience seems to really respond to that kind of material, especially the younger members of the audience.

WM: People respond to whatever you give them. The important thing though in jazz is how can you maintain the integrity of jazz and get younger people to a higher place without imitating popular trends. There's always the challenge to have to imitate a popular trend or become a part of a fad because it's popular but that's when your own sense of personal integrity comes into question.

AAJ: Hasn't jazz always incorporated outside elements?

WM: Jazz has always incorporated elements of other types of music, but the fundamental rhythm of jazz hasn't changed because once your rhythm changes you become another form of music. Like if you start playing Afro-Cuban music'Dizzy Gillespie might play a song or two, but if you go to a gig and every tune has an Afro-Cuban beat on it, a clave, he's playing another style of music. If someone's playing a funk beat on every tune, that's another style of music. You have to make sure you don't incorporate yourself out of being you.


AAJ: So if people absorb aspects of music...

WM: It's up to every person. It's up to each individual artist to determine what their level of participation will be. Jazz music has an identity. As does hip-hop and Afro-Cuban music. As does tango. If you want to know what the identity of a music is, listen to what the bass and the drums play. What the bass and drums play most of the time is what type of music it is. You're not going to go to a hip-hop show and hear them swing sixty percent of the time. That's not gonna happen. No. They might have some elements of swing in their music, they might swing 10 percent of the time, 20 percent of the time, but their constituency wants to hear hip-hop. So they're gonna play those types of beats most of the evening. If you're playing jazz most of the evening you're gonna be swinging because that's the rhythm of jazz

AAJ: So you disagree that the main distinguishing factor of jazz is improvisation?

WM: Every form of music has improvisation. People improvise in Indian music, in all types of African music, they improvise in hip-hop. They improvise in Afro-Cuban music. So how do you know the difference between jazz improvisation and all those other forms of music?

AAJ: It always has to go back to the swing?

WM: It has to have some thing that identifies it or else it is nothing.

AAJ: I'd like to go back a bit to our discussion of expanding jazz interest. What function do you see the internet playing in jazz growth? I'm curious because there seems to be a lot of potential. Internet publications can reach people that are spread out all over the country, or the world. It can help build communities without people having to be in one specific location, or surrounded by other people that share that interest. I was wondering if you think that could be a benefit to jazz specifically.

WM: Yeah, I think so. The internet is a benefit to everything. It's more information available quicker, at your fingertips. So that's a great tool.

AAJ: Do you foresee that the internet can help draw in more listeners by increasing exposure?

WM: Sure.

AAJ: Would you consider making your music available on the internet, maybe in conjunction with the Lincoln Center?

WM: Sure, we'd love to do that.

AAJ: Do you ever come home, from of the road, and say, 'man, I need a break from music?'

WM: No.

AAJ: Do you ever need a break from jazz?

WM: Never. It's what I love.

AAJ: What would I be most likely to find on your stereo at home?

WM: I love all kinds of music. Jazz. Billie Holiday. Art Blakey. Sonny Stitt. Bird. Duke. Marcus Roberts, Ben Webster. Louis Armstrong.

AAJ: What about other genres?

WM: Tango music'I like Brazilian music too. I like any kind of traditional music. I like all kinds of classical music: Stravinsky, Bartok. The new composer Mark Anthony Turner, I like his music. I like John Adams. There's a lot of great music from around the world.

AAJ: You just mentioned a strong interest in traditional music. That reminds me of something you wrote previously describing jazz as the feeling of being in your grandmother's house. There seems to be in that description, and in some of your music, a sense of nostalgia. I'm wondering if your music is about capturing something you see as having been lost.

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