This week my cover story for local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine’s New Orleans Jazz Fest issue: Interview/profile of legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
Thanks again to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment. Photo credits: Romney Photography
(From left to right: Ed Petersen (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Harold Battiste), Harold Battiste, Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Victor Atkins (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Ellis Marsalis, Jr.), and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.
If those of you living outside of New Orleans want to know why natives like me love it here, one reason is the plethora of and accessibility to great artists. The artistic ability per square mile in this city is astounding. I wrote an article that will appear in local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine during New Orleans Jazz Fest in late April/Early May, and had a chance to interview legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
I never get tired of speaking to great musicians and artists, particularly about the creative process and the courageous nature of developing your artistic gift in the face of daunting challenges. Here’s an excerpt from my interview – a quote from Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the GRAMMY Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, regarding his esteemed predecessors in jazz and music education:
“Nobody starts to play basketball because they had a great coach. They play basketball because they saw Michael Jordan. As much as I have respect for all of the classroom time that these gentlemen (Marsalis and Battiste) have spent, I would never have been interested in them if they couldn’t play. We call these guys educators, but was Louis Armstrong any less of an educator? Was Cannonball Adderley any less of an educator? Was Miles Davis?”
- Irvin Mayfield
(Pictured left to right, Myself, Irvin Mayfield, and Ellis Marsalis)
Thanks to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment.
I’ve always been a fan of the actor Jeff Bridges, and in particular the movie The Fabulous Baker Boys. Jeff portrayed half of the sibling piano lounge act who struggles with the reality that he’s selling out in Tiki Bars and hotel lounges every night when he yearns to play a more progressive form of jazz that’s more true to his talents and passion.
It’s the story that strikes the core of artistic work of any kind – Staying true to your self in your work.
I’ve also found fascination in listening to artists of all vocations speak about their craft and gaining insight into how they approach their work and the creative process. I’m a fan of the television show Inside the Actor’s Studio, because I love listening to artists discuss their approach to the creative process.
On the music front, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the great musicians of my hometown like Ellis Marsalis, Jr., Pete Fountain, Henry Butler, and Irvin Mayfield (It’s great to be a New Orleanian!).
Since Bridges is a musician and an actor who has starred in critically acclaimed movies about musicians, he has a unique perspective on the common threads of both artistic outlets. Here’s a brief excerpt from one of his post-Oscar interviews on that subject:
“Movies are more than just entertainment, they are connecting us. And music is the same way. We have a movie about music here, but music and movies are a common link for all of us. I am hoping that this will kind of raise my profile, and I am all about getting us all together, getting the world healthy. Sometimes I’ll think of movies as a great example for the way the world can work. You have all these different opinions, and all these different ways we can work together. And we can make the most beautiful movie we can make, and we have the opportunity to make this the most beautiful world too. So I hope that furthers that idea.”
When I interviewed Ellis Marsalis, Jr., the patriarch of the great Marsalis family of jazz, he recalled vividly the music that spoke to him and inspired him to hone his skills as a musician:
“When I was really developing as a piano player, I had one recording that I would play periodically. It was Stratford-Upon-Avon with the Oscar Peterson Trio (Oscar Peterson Live at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival). Once I put that on it would let me know immediately where I was. But you see I found that. And everybody who’s serious, they find it. And it’s different for everybody.”
For me and thousands of jazz guitarists, it was Joe Pass. There was none smoother and more melodic in his artistry. Here’s the link to my tribute to Joe Pass at AllAboutJazz.com And here’s Joe in action
“There is so much in jazz music to be studied and to be learned, and so little education. I could go on and on and on, just about what Duke Ellington did. And, also the romantic connotations of the music. The music had the effect of liberating a lot of the people from this Victorian image of sexuality. But, for some reason people still think they need to be liberated from that. This is something jazz music was doing around the turn of the century. And, now it’s degenerated in the modern era to the type of vulgarity that is represented by rock and roll, which parades under the guise of giving you sexual freedom, when it’s really, truly, sexual repression.
“Sexual freedom is found in the sensuality and the romance and the lyricism of the great songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, and of the great instrumentalists like Louis Armstrong and Lester Young. These people had a truly romantic conception that was based on elevation of the relationship between a man and a woman, rather than the denigration of it into just some abusive adolescent sexual discoveries.”
To read the entire transcript go to Achievement.org.
To sample Wynton Marsalis’s He and She album, click here.
To read my review of He and She for Where Y’at magazine in New Orleans, click here.
To read my interview with Wynton’s father, Ellis Marsalis, Jr., including his thoughts on raising children, click here
Listening to the CD Last Train Home, a collection of duets by jazz guitarists Davy Mooney and John Pizzarelli, I’m struck once again by the unselfish manner in which musicians share their talents and knowledge of music with younger generations. Pizzarelli is more than 20 years older than Mooney, and the two actually met when Mooney entered a jazz guitar competition in which Pizzarelli was a judge.
With more than 40 feature albums and 140 as a contributor, Pizzarelli’s resume is impressive. It speaks volumes of the selflessness of Pizzarelli that he would lend his talents to this project with an “up and comer” such as Mooney, though I don’t want to suggest that Mooney’s talents are anything less than exceptional. It’s simply not something you’d always expect of a tenured professional – yet in music it happens all of the time.
Musicians are outstanding when it comes to sharing their expertise and grooming young talent. Ellis Marsalis, the father of the renowned jazz musicians and a great jazz pianist himself routinely allows young jazz artists to sit in with him during his regular Friday night gig and nurture their skills. I see and hear it all of the time with regard to the musicians I’ve met, followed, spoken to, and interviewed throughout my career.
Other professions should take note. In corporate settings and in other professions, it’s not always a given that talented tenured employees will openly share their knowledge and expertise. It’s generally a matter of fear and insecurity, yet it’s the greatest way to accelerate productivity.
They could learn a lesson from the music world.