June 14, 2004

Taking Note.... of Others

This is an excerpt from Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis who spoke at the National Press Club luncheon on Tuesday, November 21, 1995.

Wynton Marsalis
All over the world I go and teach master classes. And I always do the same exercises. It doesn't make a difference if it's an elementary school—it could be the Paris Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, and of the various high schools, Eastern, or whatever it happens to be. The band sets up, and I tell them to play something. And they play. And I just listen. I don't say anything.

Clearly, they'll play a song that is about four or five minutes long--but everybody will solo too long, so that song will become eight or nine minutes. So when they're finished playing, I ask them, "OK, what did she play?"--pick out maybe the first or second person that soloed. "Anybody in the band, tell me what she played when she soloed."

One hundred percent of the time no one knows. One hundred percent—not 99.9. No one in 10 years or 15 years—however long I've been out there—has anyone ever been able to tell me what a person who soloed played in the beginning of their song.

So it always makes me wonder. I always say, "Well, what are you all doing when you are all playing? Are you interested at all in what this person is playing?"

"Yeah, you know we,...yeah."

"Well why can't you remember any of it?"

"Well, you know, they play too long."

"Well, what were you playing when they were playing? Were you playing anything that was related to what they're playing?"

"Mmm-hmmm-mmm"—doesn’t know.

Now it's important to make the younger musicians understand that the choices you make on the bandstand are exactly like the choices you're going to make in the greater society.

"You can be the greatest soloist in the world, but if you don't have anybody to play with, you're just not going to sound good."

Posted on June 14, 2004 8:08 PM
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