Wynton Marsalis Talking Jazz
I remember speaking with Wynton Marsalis in 1982, when he was being honored in his home town of New Orleans. A few years before, he had left New Orleans for New York, where, after a short period of time with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, he seemed to burst upon the national scene as a full-blown star, winning Grammy awards in both the jazz and classical categories. This day in 1982, however, we were traveling up the Mississippi River on a large stern-wheel paddleboat ,along with 3,000 happy fans who had gathered to hear his band play and celebrate "Wynton Marsalis Day", which had just been declared by the mayor of that city. I asked him then if he felt particularly proud to return home to New Orleans with this kind of recognition. Wynton said, "No," that it really didn't mean that much to him. He said that he felt New Orleans never had been much of a jazz city, that it was just portrayed that way in the media, that opportunities to play real music had always been limited there and that most of the people who had come on board the boat probably didn't even know, like or understand his music. They were there, he felt, primarily because the media had told them that they should be there. He said, "Man, if they really listened to this music, it would change their lives." Over the years, Wynton has continued to be outspoken about the lack of awareness of jazz in America and has never succumbed to the hype surrounding his own celebrity, which continues to grow.