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Victor Goines: Liquid And Fire

By Published: October 9, 2007

Kindergarten With The Marsalis Family

AAJ: You mentioned Ellis Marsalis. You and the Marsalises have been part of each others' lives since you were knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper, right?

VG: We go back quite a bit. Wynton and I, as it turns out, went to kindergarten together. We didn't know each other as early as that, but it's really ironic that we go back that far. We did become very familiar with each other in elementary school. That kindergarten is named Martinez. It's a very popular kindergarten in New Orleans, Louisiana. In elementary school, we became very involved, along with Branford [Marsalis], in the honor band, particularly one at Jesuit High School. The band director was responsible for taking the most outstanding students around the greater New Orleans area and putting together a concert band. As destiny would turn out, we all found ourselves, as we got to high school, performing in all-state ensembles together.

It has been a tremendous opportunity for all parties involved. We're in our forties. I always say that you meet your friends when you're young. And to go back that far and interact on a day-to-day basis is really a tremendous privilege for me.

AAJ: Particularly doing something as intimate as playing music.

VG: Absolutely, because there's a trust factor that's there that surpasses the one that most of us have the opportunity to develop with the musicians we work with.

AAJ: Did you start studying with Ellis in college?

VG: I was a junior in college at the time. Wynton went out with his own band, the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, which was [saxophonist] Branford Marsalis, [pianist] Kenny Kirkland, [drummer] Jeff Watts, and "bass de jour," because the bassist always changed. That was in '82. He had just come out with that first record of his entitled Wynton Marsalis (Sony, 1981). I said, "Hey man, what do I need to do, in your opinion, to get to the next level?" He said, "You need to study with my dad." I had never studied with his dad. I never went to the Center For Creative Arts like he did, and like Branford and Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison. I went to an all-boys school by the name of St. Augustine. So I said, "OK, I'll call your dad."

I called him and asked him, "Mr. Marsalis, will you please take me as a student?" He agreed to. I wasn't surprised but then I was surprised. I mean, he's Ellis Marsalis. To me, he is the premier pianist and has always been, there's never been a doubt. When he took me as a student, I used to study with him weekly. I'd have assignments that he'd give me, but most of all he'd give me the opportunity to study the historical perspective of the saxophone. He exposed me to the entire instrument.


After a year of studying with him, he decided that he was going to put a band together of young musicians. In that band were myself, a drummer by the name of Noel Kendrick and a bassist named Reginald Veal. So that was my first introduction to Reginald Veal. We would play around New Orleans, then we started traveling around the United States a little bit. Then we went abroad a bit. We played together for some two and a half years in New Orleans.

At that time, in 1986, Mr. Marsalis was afforded an opportunity to teach at Virginia Commonwealth University. I remember we were going to Asia with the United States Information Agency. He said, "Look, when I get back, I'm taking this job at Virginia Commonwealth, so you all need to figure out what you're all going to do." I was like, "Oh, man, we're just getting started."

So we all started making decisions about what we were going to do. I was teaching mathematics, so as he left and started his career teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, an opportunity came to me again via Ellis Marsalis, which was to go to Virginia Commonwealth and get my Masters. I've always been an advocate of education, not only as a teacher but as a student. If somebody's going to pay for me to go to school, I'm going to school. And then I'm going to go study with my mentor? There's no doubt about it.

So I went up to Virginia to study with Mr. Marsalis for a year and a half. We had a lot of interaction. A lot of times, I'd be by his home. His family was up there—his wife and her mother and his son Jason, but it was like two people being in a place where they didn't know a lot of other people. So I had many days of interaction with him in a very unique and personal way.

Shortly after that, I decided to go up to New York for the first stay I was going to have in New York, in 1989. Soon after that, Ellis Marsalis was offered the opportunity to come back down to New Orleans and be the chair of the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans. I was playing in New York on Black And Blue, and an opportunity came to me to teach at Loyola University in New Orleans. So I traveled back down there to become an assistant professor of saxophone at Loyola University, as my former teacher, Paul McGinley, was taking a leave of absence.


When that year expired, the University of New Orleans decided that they were going to invite a saxophone instructor to their campus. They had to do a national search, and my name became a part of that search and I was very fortunate to get that position. While I was in a position to be a professor again, I saw it as another opportunity to be a student again, under some of my favorite players and teachers—Ellis Marsalis, [composer/arranger] Harold Battiste, another gentleman named Charlie Blancq.

What was really amazing about Charlie Blancq's relationship to all that is that he had done a book about one of my favorite saxophonists, Sonny Rollins [Sonny Rollins: The Journey of a Jazzman (Twayne, 1983)], so it was like the circle was getting completed along the way.

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