BEING ONE of America's most versatile musicians will win you a
good deal of respect in most circles. By the same token,
versatility can also make you an attractive target, as trumpeter
Wynton Marsalis has learned.
Jealous jazz players, especially those of the avant-garde
persuasion, occasionally take the 33-year-old virtuoso to task for
being too "traditional" - for tending to the roots of a musical
form they insist demands constant invention. Some of those jazz
performers also wonder aloud, now and then, why Wynton continues to
devote some of his time to classical (i.e., European-derived) music.
And over on the classical side, conductors and other insiders
have expressed bewilderment at the notion that a man with Marsalis'
superior technique could more or less abandon that form as far as
live performances are concerned.
Although he continues to make classical recordings - his latest
album features trumpet concertos by Haydn, Hummel and Leopold
Mozart (with the London Concert conducted by former St. Louis
Symphony Orchestra principal guest conductor Raymond Leppard) -
Marsalis dramatically scaled back his activities in the classical
domain in the late '80s to concentrate more on jazz.
In the face of the ire that flies at him from various points on
the musical compass, Marsalis seems to maintain a fairly even
temperament. He refuses to buy into notions of musical exclusivity.
"Sophistication is sophistication," he insists. "And it comes
in any form, be it European, African, Caribbean, Chinese, Japanese
. . . I travel all around the world. I know musicians in every
culture by name.
"Now if anybody thinks that the tradition of Bach and Beethoven
and Haydn and Debussy and Mozart can be disrespected, or that it
goes against the traditions of African music - or that it goes
against any other world traditions - they are sadly mistaken. All
these traditions in music can work together."
Currently the jazz director of New York's Lincoln Center,
Marsalis will present a brand-new band, the Wynton Marsalis Septet,
Sunday night at Powell Hall.
Asked whether the quartet will in any way echo the traditional
jazz inclinations of his celebrated septet, which appeared at
Powell Hall three years ago, the trumpeter senses yet another
musical red flag being hoisted.
"Of course, the music will always be reflected in the musicians
in the band," he responds evenly. …