One of the living men we admire most here at the Asylum is Mr. Wynton Marsalis.
Not discounting his brilliant and enjoyable music and performances, another reason for our admiration is that the man embodies and practices respect. Respect for himself, respect for his art, respect for others.
For those who may not be jazz lovers, Mr. Marsalis is Managing & Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC; Trumpeter, Bandleader and Composer. If anyone in the music and creative fields has done his part to make America great, it is Mr. Marsalis.
From Wikipedia – the following are a few of his many accomplishments:
In 1987, Marsalis co-founded a jazz program at Lincoln Center. In July 1996, Jazz at Lincoln Center was installed as a new constituent of Lincoln Center. In October 2004, Marsalis opened Frederick P. Rose Hall, the world’s first institution for jazz containing three performance spaces (including the first concert hall designed specifically for jazz), along with recording, broadcast, rehearsal and educational facilities. Marsalis serves as Artistic Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Music Director for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. One of his most recent releases was a 2011 collaboration with blues-rock guitarist Eric Clapton, a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert that produced the live album Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues.
Marsalis currently serves as director of the Juilliard Jazz studies program.
At a ceremony in September 2016 Marsalis was honored with a 2015 National Humanities Medal
His music is his music, his creativity – his creativity. And just as impressive and inspirational as his music, are interviews Mr. Marsalis gives to college students, a couple of which can be found here and here.
Love and respect are themes one hears him speak of throughout his interviews -starting with the love, respect and discipline he received from his parents. His father, a jazz musician himself, eked out a living for the family playing his music in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Sometimes he was playing to near empty bars or jazz clubs, but finished each performance no matter the scant attendance out of respect for himself and the music he was playing. His mother, being what Mr. Marsalis describes as a very soulful and intelligent woman, intellectually interested in everything and very socially conscious and involved, was a social worker who could aptly handle the most stressful of situations. This respect and love he witnessed and learned from his parents, teachers, music greats he grew up listening to and associating with, and fellow musicians evidently rubbed off on him, and is readily seen in his demeanor, the thoughtfulness and graciousness given to students asking questions.
“Music deals with everything invisible,” he says. “It allows for deep meditation and gives the brain the chance to rest in music”, he goes on to say. We who write, need time for deep meditation to let our brains rest in something other than the words we’re trying to catch to portray a feeling, the words for a character’s witty retort or the perfect line to end whatever we may be writing at the time – the invisible we deal with as writers.
“Writer’s block” can sometimes haunt us, where the words scrambling around in our brains are in complete disarray. We seem to be unable to write a complete sentence, no matter the urgency, no matter whether we are relaxed, tipsy, inspired – no matter anything. Mr. Marsalis says, humbly and respectfully, he is never out of ideas for his next piece – never at a loss to create. A woman asked him what a favorite work of his might be. He answered that he doesn’t really remember his past creative efforts as he’s on to the next one right after completing the work he’s spent a great deal of time and effort to make perfect. Perhaps a lesson for us writers – write and edit and edit and edit, and then let it go and move on to more creativity.
“This is life”, he tells a student. “There is no perfection.” Our humanity is deepened through tragedy and struggles, he says (I’m paraphrasing here). And if weren’t for those tragedy and struggles, where would be be as writers. I find it extremely difficult to write of candy canes and lollipops every day (of course, that’s not a on-going theme here at the Asylum, either!) I want the “juice”, the real stuff. And our past and current struggles supply each of us with the juice to tell an abundance of stories. We only have to write and write and then re-write and re-write and then re-write some more. This is our creative process, just as the practice that Mr. Marsalis speaks of relating to his creative efforts. Eventually we get the piece as perfect as it can be. It is up to us to then let it go and move on to our next masterpiece, and I believe, we have several masterpieces in each of us to write about.
Writing is usually not a collaborative effort. We aren’t contacting fellow bloggers or writers and asking them – “hey, can you just take a quick look at what I just wrote and let me know if it’s pure horse dung or actually has the dawn of thought somewhere”. We have to trust our instincts, critique our own work in a positive way. Mr. Marsalis talks about what the music deserves when creating – we ask ourselves, or should, what does the writing deserve. As he says, “creativity is not about music or ideas, it’s just creativity.” Perhaps something to remember when we’re writing – it’s not necessarily the idea or the writing – it’s that we’re creating.
The interviews noted above are exceptional and inspirational. Even better is to attend one of his concerts if his orchestra makes its way to a city near you. You won’t be disappointed. And though this dispatch is not of a political nature, if interested, his measured and thoughtful response when asked by college students if he would play at the Trump inauguration, if asked, further highlights his thoughtfulness, deep thinking and respect. It can be found on his blog here.
To leave you with a couple of pieces, the first is one with Charlie Parker performing “Embraceable You”, with Lester Jones performing also. Mr. Marsalis spoke of Charlie Parker’s playing, saying, “…when Charlie Parker played, the whole thing was melody.”
Charlie Parker & Lester Young – Embraceable You
And one of our absolute favorite Wynton Marsalis performances ~
Wynton Marsalis – Big Fat Hen – 8/13/2005 – Newport Jazz Festiva
Photo credit: By feinsteinphotos (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: By Yelkrokoyade (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons