Archive for May, 2020

An American Treasure

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Wynton Marsalis on CBS Sunday Morning with tags , on May 12, 2020 by playthell

Maestro Wynton Marsalis after Performing at U-Cal Berkley

CBS Sunday Morning Celebrates the Musical Marsalis’s 

This feature story from the vast archives of CBS television is a priceless treasure. It is a segment from the feature stories on Jazz hosted by the late GREAT Dr. Billy Taylor on CBS Sunday Morning, which introduced a largely unknown musical genius named Wynton Marsalis to the world.

A virtuoso on the piano and a composer / arranger, who also held a PhD, Dr. Taylor was the ideal impresario to present Wynton, a musically ambidextrous virtuoso of the trumpet who at 20 had mastered the two great traditions in western music: European Classical Concert music, and the modern Afro-American complex instrumental music popularly known as “Jazz.” While there have been other musicians who could ably perform in both traditions – flautist Hubert Laws, bassists Richard Davis and Carlos del Pino, trumpeter Miles Davis, percussionist Max Roach, pianists Herbie Hancock and Chucho Valdez, to name a few – none has achieved the level of success that Wynton enjoys.

Looking back at this interview, conducted in the inimitable style of Dr. Taylor, a combination of weighty erudition and cool hipness, with an elegant style accompanied by a beguiling smile, we can see how prescient he was in forecasting greatness for young Wynton. Although barely past his teenage years at the time of the interview, Wynton spoke with the wisdom of a learned elder and played with the technical virtuosity and musical gravitas of a master!

This was no accident, as we learn when we meet his father Ellis Marsalis, a brilliant pianist, influential teacher, and splendid father who, although a quintessential modernist, embodied the entire tradition of Jazz in his playing; beginning with the great musicians of his home town New Orleans, where Jazz was invented at the turn of the 20th century.

It is Ellis who gave Wynton his name, honoring his favorite pianist Wynton Kelly, who performed with andmade great recordings with the virtuoso trumpeter and imaginative innovator Miles Davis. Alas, this splendid man and great musician, was recently taken from us by the Corona-Virus plague…I believe if there is a heaven out there somewhere beyond the rainbow, where good souls go when they die, Ellis Marsalis is jammin with Gabriel in a celestial orchestra.

I knew Billy Taylor, and I first saw Wynton perform when he was around 20 years old in a concert with the great Herbie Hancock VSOP band. I had only vaguely heard of him from a few gigs he had performed around the Big Apple with the great Art Blakey’s “Jazz Messengers,” an iconic band in the history of Jazz, that had caused a buzz among aficionados.

From the moment I heard him play I knew Wynton was special and would become one of the greats. As a failed trumpeter who abandoned that extremely difficult instrument in a fit of despair during 9th grade, after I heard Clifford Brown play “Delilah,” accompanied by the quintessential modern percussionist Max Roach, in a quintet they led, I could easily recognize the brilliance of Wynton’s playing. Just like every failed basketball player can instantly reognize the greatness of Lebron James.
We would soon become good friends and over the years I wrote about him in a variety of publications from the Village Voice and the Daily News, to the Manchester Guardian – now the Guardian Observor of London – the Sunday Times of London, and Commentaries On the Times. I have an essay coming out in a new book of essays on Jazz, edited by the distinguished Jazz critic Willard Jenkins. It is titled “WYNTON IS THE GREATEST!”

This treatise on the art of the trumpet makes the case for Wynton’s place in the history of the instrument, and was originally published as a multi-media essay at:  Commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com.
This CBS SUNDAY MORNING feature is a wonderful blast from the past, if you are inspired by brilliance, especially rarely celebrated Afro-American brilliance, despite the fact that it is EVERYWHERE, check this out! it will make your spirit dance in these dismal times of myriad trials and troubles.

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Click on Video

 

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
In The Time of the Great Plague
May 11, 2020