Wynton Marsalis: "Jazz is the perfect metaphor for the search for personal freedom".
BarcelonaThe American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis performed on Monday at the Palau de la Música (8.30 pm) as part of the Barcelona Jazz Festival. Hours before leaving for Europe, the musician, born in New Orleans in 1961, gave an interview to ARA via Skype.
How do you remember your last concert in Barcelona? It was in February 2020, so just before the pandemic wreaked havoc around world.
— I remember the young musicians playing before us sounded great, then we played – it was a fantastic gig. I remember the concert, it was great. I always love to play in Barcelona. I remember the first time I played in the Palau, that 1988-9, something like that.
What will you be offering your fans on this European tour?
— We’ll play The Freedom Suite, A Love Supreme, songs that have a freedom theme, but we also have original music but that is largely where we are coming from.
In the USA, you have been through a lot in this last year: covid-19, George Floyd’s murder, riots on Capitol Hill… How do all of these things affect you personally and professionally?
— It was a rough year, very difficult year. From a personal standpoint it was a tough year – I lost my father, I lost other friends close to me because of covid. So it was very tough. And a lot of older jazz musicians passed away because of covid. And it was a lot of work for us, for our organisation. It was a struggle. I was very busy. Our people did a lot of politics, not all bad. It was good to see people out of the streets protesting for what they feel is right, I am always encouraged by that but it was challenging.
And is The Democracy! Suite your answer to this?
— No, it is actually The Democracy! Suite but also The Ever Fonky Lowdown, which I released before that, so those two pieces are kind of where I was coming from.
Why did you choose the word 'democracy'?
— Because as a belief it is very elusive. It is a belief and it is on the constitution but it’s very difficult to follow because you have to want to achieve balance and agency for other people, and it is a language which is very easy to avoid and to corrupt. As all systems are, but in democracy there is more opportunity to corrupt it in subtle ways because there are not a lot of words in our constitution but they are concepts, like freedom of speech, originally designed to be about how you address the king, and you didn’t have a political system that could keep you from being free, of free press, that you could not be accused of sedition. Now it applies to cursing the teacher out, it is easy to corrupt concepts.
You are a very important person for American culture. Do you feel a responsibility to send these messages to society??
— It’s not a responsibility. In the type of democracy we have, everybody has their opinion and that is positive. And now with the internet, everybody is talking. So there is not responsibility. If I am asked a question, I will answer it to the best of my abilities and as truthfully as I can based on what I know. Of course, educating yourself is a lifelong endeavour.
Has jazz disappeared from young people's lives?
— it was true when I was coming up. We didn’t hear jazz on the radio. My dad played jazz, so I was lucky I was around him. Jazz clubs were not full of people, nobody I knew of the younger people listened to the music or know about it. And it is the case with the things that are definitive, and serious and require education and a cultural investment. Without that investment, it is naive to think that you will be able to maintain a way of life. It’s a fact, but that’s also why we are also out here, to talk about the music and let people know about it and to play it and be better at it and to embody it and to deal with the difficulties of exposing people to a great music. You’ll find all of these things, like I was saying earlier: how many people have read the constitution? A very small number. But it is our constitution, so it is important to say learn the constitution, study these things. And it’s a small price to pay for your freedom. And the same thing is true aesthetically with the arts in general, and if you are an American and all around the world because the whole quest for democracy and personal freedom in the context of some type or form, is a question in the world right now and jazz is the perfect metaphor for that. It doesn’t even matter where it comes from, just what it is.
You always are working on improvisation when you play jazz.
— Improvisation is swing; so you improvise and you do your thing, but when you swing you have to find a common ground with other people. Even when you don’t want to..
Improvisation is swing; so you improvise and you do your thing, but when you swing you have to find a common ground with other people. Even when you don’t want to.
— Improvisation, swing and the blues. That’s the three elements required for it to be jazz..
And how would you describe swing?
— You know when you are a baby and you live just by yourself and a bunch of other kids come over and play with your toys? And you don’t want them to play with your toys and your parents have to tell you: ‘Let them play with the toys too’. That is what swing is.
Being open to others.
— Yeah, they can play with toys too. You don’t want them touching your toys, you’re thinking: ‘These are my toys! I don’t want them to touch my toys’. And you can’t walk around taking toys out of kids’ hands. No, just let them play with the toys too – that is what swinging is. It is the opposite of improvisation.
Jazz has an elegance that speaks very well of American culture. It's a phenomenon similar to the image that bossa nova projects of Brazil.
— I love it. How can you not like it? Everybody likes bossa nova. Everybody likes samba. Everybody likes Forró. Brazilian music is infectious, There is so much of it and they have so many great musicians. You have to love it. You can’t be mad at Jobim, you can’t be mad at Santos, you’re not going to be mad at Pixinguinha, you’re not going to be mad at Hermeto.
This year you turn 60, like President Obama or George Clooney. What does it mean to you?
— I feel good about it. Because the alternative is, you know, you’re not around here. I feel I’ve had a good time here. There’s ups and downs like anything, but I don’t feel bad about getting older.