Extra: The Classical Side of Wynton Marsalis

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: I’m Curt Anderson and this is the Studio 360 podcast.

S3: Hi, my name is Sandra Lopez once I’ll be a producer here at Studio 360 in 1997, Wynton Marsalis was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work Lord on the Fields, a two and a half hour jazz or at tell you about a couple moving from slavery to freedom. Yes, he thinks not.

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S4: Not having not just his own his own freedom is on his mind.

S5: It was the first time a jazz composition had ever won. But even though Wynton Marsalis is best known as a jazz trumpet player, he also is a classical composer himself. He has written for Symphony Isn’t a Violin Concerto. And this year he released a recording of his symphony number three, the Swing Symphony with the jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson in D. But guess Extra Wynton Marsalis sits down with Kurt Anderson to talk about his love of classical music. He says it all started with a chance encounter on a New Orleans streetcar when he was just a kid.

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S6: So a guy went into the back of the street card, a quite trumpet from a college which was unusual for a white guy. Duke He saw my trumpet case and he had a trumpet case.

S7: So you wait as a kid in the in the 70s, you’re sitting in the back of three Kerchers because that’s not a choir.

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S6: You didn’t have to it was not required. That’s where you were. Just it was a mandate. You you wanted to sit there. Yeah, but it was an area. It was not populated with whites. Gotcha. So this student for some reason stepped across those lines and put his trumpet case down by mine. So I was not that eager to see him, sir, but of course, thought to look at me at him. And he was insistent on telling me something. I was gonna be be not as friendly and fuzzy as I should have been. But then he gave me an album, just absolutely random occurrences, said, check this album. And it was an album of a trumpet player named Maurice Andre. And I thought, you know, classical music. Okay, man, the famous. Yeah. Fritz. But I didn’t know he was a dead time. I was maybe 13. And I read the album jacket as something said that his parents were coal miners. And I thought, man, is people this guy’s people worked in coal mines and he played classical trumpet. I got to put this on when I get home. So I put it on. It was a recording.

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S4: And I still wonder if I could play like this. Just wait, these players flustered to learn his concerto is off the record.

S6: And then I got into the music study and reading about people about him.

S7: You trained as a classical trumpet player. You played at age 14, Haydn Concerto with the New Orleans Symphony. One of your first Grammy Awards was for a classical best classical album. So you obviously are best known for all of your work in jazz. But from the very get-go, classical music has been a big part of who you are and more and more your work.

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S6: Do you think of yourself as one of the other more, more jazz musicians? Yeah. So I bring the jazz sensibility to to classical music. My father’s jazz musician, I was grew up around the jazz musicians and I come much more spiritually out of the spirit of jazz.

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S7: Right. So you’ve been running jazz at Lincoln Center since you were twenty six years old. Basically, you get out of Juilliard and become you start this new thing.

S6: No, I actually didn’t graduate from from Juilliard. I said, get out. Right. I dropped out. I joined our Blakey’s band when I was 18. Yeah. And Doob jizzing Senate came, came along. I didn’t really even understand what we were doing. A community of people put it together. Uh-Huh. And you know, we worked on it and nurtured it. I was always there, but it was very much a community.

S7: Sure. At that point, did you think of yourself purely as a jazz music player, or was classical music more part of your head?

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S6: I stopped playing classical music at a certain point because I didn’t feel like a play out a high enough level and develop my jazz playing. Uh-Huh. Because I have tremendous respect for for the playing and for the history of all of our instrument and technical demands of playing at a certain level.

S8: Lincoln Center, though, given that it is the epicenter of classical music in United States, I mean, that must have at least I don’t know that could have daunted you and said, well, no, I’m just going to be a jazz player and that’s it. And I’m never going to try my hand at being a classical composer.

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S6: Well, I only tried to write a classical composition because Kurt Mazor, who was the head of the New York Philharmonic, but his son as a trumpet player so is only because he came to a concert of mine when I was like 28 or 29. I had not even written for a big band and jazz and said he wanted me to write for the New York Philharmonic. I started laughing like, man, I have never even written for a big band. Well.

S7: And anytime any artist changes their lane, like, whoa, hold on. You’re supposed to be in this line.

S6: Yeah, that’s a black person is worse. And for man is worse. If you’re a black man and you don’t want to be condescended to, you’re going to struggle out here. So I tried, even as a younger man, to always be as truthful as I could be with what I knew about myself at that time. Kurt Mazola is the reason I started to play it. He did tease me a mess with me. He called me friend. Are you still scared? And interesting about the piece I wrote for the Philharmonic when I met with him about writing it. He said, I’m going to turn the New York Philharmonic over to you for the night before them turn to the millennium. And I want you to write a piece about our common humanity. And I want you to think about why is strain of relationship between Afro-American music and Anglo American music is not being continued at all. This in Gershwin, this and this, this and that. We talked about Naziism and a lot of subjects who are close to him. And he revealed personal things to me about oh, he of course grew up in that time. And what he saw and what he felt about the importance in German as a German, as a German and about civilization and about what the price is required. And he had a profound effect on me. So it took me 10 years to just come develop enough technology and understanding. I’m trying to figure out what things do we have in common with vocabulary. Can I use coming from New Orleans growing up playing classical music? I knew that we had common ground where ragtime marches some forms of American popular song piece of George Gershwin, Burnstein, Duke Ellington. So I started to try to figure out how to write for these instruments and what was our common musical ground and what Graham did. I actually know from my upbringing.

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S7: So then you take young Masrour up on the Dare and write this piece for the New York film that they perform and 20 years ago.

S6: And then when I when I finished the piece and we first did it, I was I was I was rushed in five months. I work around the clock like it. And it was the words. I mean, it’s on this day. This is all right. All right. It’s so bad in the Philharmonic was really a lot of my players. I went to camp with @newday. We’re trying to really play it so I couldn’t blame him. And I thought, man, I don’t think this is for me. I felt like I committed a public crime was long. It’s like how in 45 minutes Squire Jasmyn was so ambitious and I saw it on a schedule, we were gonna play it with the Czech National Orchestra. So after the New York Philharmonic permit, which was around around New Year’s December. Twenty seven to eight in ninety nine ninety nine. Then he was like showed up in two thousand man and was like, man, can we cancel this. Just the thought of sitting through this again. I worked on it, but United could didn’t change that much of it. I lost the tape of it was so depressing. Then when we went to play it, you know, it was interesting. Like it sounded a lot better.

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S7: You said that the three big fundamental concepts in jazz for you are the blues swing and improvisation. Yeah, and swing is is fundamental. Yeah. What does that mean to you?

S6: It means that desk the African element of the music where two times are played against each other. So why is African music? I mean, just traditional generic African this term, polyrhythmic Mesia But it means polyrhythmic in the sense of two diametrically opposed concepts meeting and balancing with each other in going from one side to the other. So it doesn’t mean three in the context of four, it means three and four.

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S9: So one thing is going to do do, do, do, do, do, do, do do that.

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S6: That means you’re going to either side’s a rhythm night and day together, yin yang male-female together. So both of those things sounding at one time. Right. Western musicians like we we don’t we learn to play a much as in two waltzes in three. You gonna play in two and three at once. I mean I don’t know if I can do that.

S7: Interesting. It’s a quantum musical form. You know, X and Y simultaneous.

S6: That’s right. That’s exactly how quantum computers work. Right. And it was interesting how that plays out. I was playing basketball. My daughter, she’s eleven and one of her friends was also who’s twelve. And a friend told my daughter, she said, if you see me, go right, go left. Two against one. But it was just intelligent way to understand the spatial layer.

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S7: That’s interesting. And you’re saying that that is out of Africa, AFRICOM take place. But but but uniquely, you’re saying that’s what it brought to the world’s myths.

S6: I mean, so many things. I mean, how to deal with the pentatonic scale, African music, large pentatonic. I have no idea what you mean yet. Doo doo doo doo d ddd do. Like you hear all these kind of melodies. Yeah. Another thing is the dance beat sensibility, the fact that rhythms represents something in life, that there’s a symbolism to a rhythm. And then another thing in African music is the supremacy of sound, that inside of the thing is a sound. And that sound is itself an indication of a consciousness. Another thing to be learned from new music in the deepest thing that we don’t understand quite in the West, is that a traditional thing that is renewed over and over and over and over again is reborn every time is renewed. So we struggle with these concepts.

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S7: It’s funny, I was just reading something about neurobiology where that is exactly how I understand. And it’s true that memories are literally each time you retrieve a memory from your mind, it is rewritten.

S6: There you go. And sometimes you actually want to rewrite it. But you know, you will find all these similarities throughout the physical universe. Drought is because the insights into the nature of musics and human beings and ARDS, they’re not things that just came about the last 400 years.

S7: Right, right. Right. We’ll have lots more of my interview in a minute. But first, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you to follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Studio 360 show.

S1: And now back to the podcast.

S7: Well, let’s talk about this swing symphony of yours, which is symphony number three.

S6: Well, let’s talk about just even how it starts. I start would like to dome to administrate for one, two, three, four.

S10: But I have the drums. One team. Team 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 123456.

S6: So even in the first measures I have that juxtaposition of the three and the 4, the African 6 in the bottom.

S7: So this swing symphony has 7 movements and sent Luis to New Orleans. Midwestern moods are the names of some of the midnight moon. All these. So were you saying, OK, I’m going to do a history of American music, the evolution of the swing rhythm?

S6: A lot of times I’m doing things for people, the musicians who come after me, who will be interested in knowing how these things were used, impossibilities so that when they can realize things that maybe I don’t have the technology to realize, they’ll be able to see. Okay. Ragtime is related to marches and got the show. That was right. And these kind of fugues is related to that. And Mingus wrote this and as these type of progressions can work with this and you can orchestrate these things this way. And if you’ll say it can function like a guitar and he’s percussion section and play things based on wood, ah, Blakey and Gene Krupa need this type of was played and I don’t have to do Benny Goodman. I put a lot of the stories of our music inside of the music and this is out.

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S7: Ellington interpreted African stuff and how that got into my own body. Right.

S6: Like Beethoven, interpretive dance rhythms. But you know, everybody. You have to interpret something. Shakespeare and togepi in Greek mythology, there are no eyeline canvases. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you have to interpret something in the human story kind of America. I always try to do things I noted, I’ve experienced that I’ve lived. If I go through these movements, I could tell you each one of them, what I know specifically about that and what that experience is.

S7: And and it would give listeners a sense of the movements.

S4: I mean, it really does start out with roots in ragtime and yet ragtime, maple leaf rag to it to slow dragonballs little drag and then show how the orchestration works between the two. Then I wouldn’t want as much which I tried to arrange for orchestra in such a way. You could see how the spatial layout of New Orleans jazz improvisation was based on March’s.

S6: All American pep is like a 1920s. Happy days are here again.

S4: pre-depression music, a lot of trick drumming and things went on in Charleston rhythm. I use Charleston rhythm in beginning. I turn around all different beats. Show how the string section can play really complicated syncopated things as if they were jazz musicians. So I know orchestra members are really amongst the greatest train musicians in the world. They want hard things to play. You don’t want to play home. I try to write them difficult parts, just like with a jazz band would play. And we go from that to a rhomboid and an Afro-Latin dance craze, a hit American, a 1920s.

S6: You know, Midwestern mood is the first time we swing, that’s like Count Basie.

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S11: To the Benny Goodman band, he play with Xavier Coogan’s Orchestra and Kilmer’s Orchestra Orchestras on the less dance program in the 1930s. They represent a kind of panorama of Americana that you could see.

S6: And we ended with a kind of Benny Goodman judge, a junkie.

S4: Don’t put up with to put Nessa first time I really wrote out basslines and Abe the orchestra swinging in the time with the jazz band.

S12: And the first time we played that winter with the Berlin Philharmonic, it was actually electric.

S11: Because, you know, you make an suppositions that, OK, this if I write them in three, if I put them with a riff up here, if I put the bases in a cellie. All right. He and I put them in front of the baseline descend. I’m making a lot of calculations and I don’t know is true because I’ve never heard it.

S4: But when we get to that in section of number three, that was the first time in his symphony, I thought damnest thing actually could work together.

S7: And by the way, this is the St. Louis Symphony and your band. Yeah. Lincoln Center together. So when you’re performing with these two different groups together, you and. And the maestro are up there together conducting maestro is conducting us in the back of a trumpet section where I always sit.

S6: And you don’t need you. I need to concentrate on following. Right. I’m I’m the fourth trumpet and I’ll traumatization and we have to play. And if I start to look around and think about what a part was played, I can’t play my part.

S7: How are you? Fourth trumpet. That’s when I would play the trumpet in the band. Fourth trumpet meant you weren’t as good as me. I was second Trump.

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S6: Yeah. In a jazz band, we’re not ordered by. Our social standing is different. The value of each thing is indivisible because now when we sit in ensemble, we’re all one body. So it doesn’t matter whether you get to rebound or I get the disorder, that’s just what it is.

S7: So you’re like you’re like a director who also acts in his movies or something.

S6: In that sense, I guess maybe, you know, maybe in the beginning, but not with our band. We are music direct. So it because I wrote the music. Yes, I must say things about it. But when we sit under the maestro, he’s conducting. So I learned over the years, even with wood, not that you can’t sit in rehearsals and interrupt and just stop it, stop to rehearsal and micromanage every detail of the of the performance you get with the maestro. These things, these things, these things.

S4: You only have a certain amount of time to rehearse. You don’t have infinite time. Be very practical with the time. And sometimes the maestros will have an instinct bedded in instinct you have even if you wrote it.

S6: So to be able to know when to when to follow and how to wait in listening, give things, give things a chance and be a participant. It’s also important.

S8: Of we who aren’t in just saying, oh, jazz is more improvisational classical music, it’s play every note as written. I don’t know to what degree that is or isn’t true, but as you’re composing these swing symphony and classical pieces, I mean, that must be like improvisation in your head, right?

S4: Every compose is improvised. Right. Because they didn’t write it like you write a poem or you write a novel and you don’t know what you’re going to tell the next second.

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S6: Really, you have you have an outline. So, you know, if you’re writing a novel, you’re not just free-form in it. True. You kind of you. It’s true. So the bit larger structure is the more the more definitive and clearer the pillars have to be. To one of the main things I’ve had to learn is how to on a page give very clear, non fuzzy instructions. And it is difficult for me.

S7: And you mentioned the plan. The basic mappers sketch or whatever when you start. Do you have that?

S6: I work on that longer. Sometimes in the music I’ll sketch things out for five months. I’m very, very clear written sketch that I may follow when I start writing it, but the music takes precedence over a written sketch. But I look at that outline over and over again. I write down forms, meanings, moods, examples, but doesn’t like writing a book.

S7: Having written books, that sounds exactly like me. And as you’re writing, I mean, how do you write? Do you use your trumpet as a piano? What do you do?

S6: Sometimes I use the panels. Sometimes I sing it. If I’m riding in a car like I don’t like to fly. So I just am in the car, man. Just getting that in the music. I just start singing it. And sometimes I use the piano. I get a foundation, whatever. I have access to it. Hard to pin how late I am. I use what I have.

S8: Given that you are in these two forms, classical, jazz, that we’re supposed to be dying for the last six years, along with radio, by the way. And you know, what is different in the last 25 years is that young people cannot or 40 years or whatever can’t escape the marketing bubble Dell must do.

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S4: Youth is not a quality of you young.

S6: You’re going to get old. So youth is not. You’re a great trumpet player. I’m young. I’m with you. Okay. You know, it’s a fact. As effective as likely we will go on it. But but like you observed. Yeah, I think I did. Why does everything have to be following a trend? I up I believe in classical music. I love it because music is fantastic. He put a lot into that music. Brahms put a lot into his Shostakovich. Oh, my God.

S7: What I love about this album and your music is this proximity of jazz being invented in the first half of the 20th century. And and, you know, all this other classical music, I mean, the simultaneous thing. And it feels to me, you just like the first half the 20th century a lot.

S6: I like all of the music. Yeah. You know, I will use any of the music that I want to use. I will use avant garde music, soundscapes, royalism, any of that.

S11: But I’m a jazz musician, so I didn’t that day I’m gonna swing higher. Why? That’s what I like to do.

S13: So just because a group back at the mission has decided, you know, we’re not swinging, OK, I might have to swing. Oh, you know, we don’t have you know, you don’t have to play Méliès. I like it.

S11: Yeah. Yeah. There’s no one right way to do things. There are many ways.

S6: So why should the way that I’m perceiving and awaited Coltrane on these people, why should that we not exist. Only this week. So for me, the opportunity to interface with more, more people and expand the world that I’m a in into play with so many great musicians of all ages and be a part of that that takes precedence over some theorems or some whatever is the next fair. And also try my peace not to be topical. I don’t want a topical issue. I want to do it. The human issue.

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S7: Yeah. Are you making it working on anything new now? Yeah, I’m always working on stuff. What’s what’s the big thing?

S4: I just recorded a piece called The Funky Low Down.

S11: Can you use the California vocabulary?

S6: I grew up playing in the 70s, but with New Orleans melodies like musicians like my father and James Black, what they were playing in the 60s. And it is his host called Mr. Game, and he takes you through all the ways I’m going to exploit you to accept my narrative.

S14: And Mr. Game as an actor on Mrs. Wendell Pierce. You see. Trust me, you are thinking about right and wrong and all.

S15: Save your nonsense. Everything is relative.

S14: Wendell Pierce was on the show. Your window is my boy. So, you know, we went to high school. He’s a little younger to me, but I absolutely love him once again as Romeo. I’m surprised. I would guess you’re the same age. But he’s a little younger than me. And, you know, high school is where you when you get a been a 50s, we all say three years apart. Oh, that sounds great. When’s that come out? Next year. Great. Keep fighting.

S6: All the good fights for fighting here. Man is great. Thank you for talking. Pleasure. With me, you know me much love from spinning.

S3: The recording of Wynton Marsalis singing Symphony by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is out now.

S7: Thanks for listening and you can subscribe to Studio 360 wherever you get podcasts.