Wynton Marsalis’ Notes From The Road: March 19-21
We arrived in Santiago de Chile last Thursday and were greeted at the airport by an elegant and beautiful lady named Veronica. She is with the Teatro Municipal de Santiago and before she could even say ‘hello’ she informed me, “Your friend Pepe is waiting for you right outside.” Now, Jose ‘Pepe’ Josiason is 83 years old and a true aficionado of Jazz, and I’m so happy to see him. After tussling to get the luggage in the car, our driver Manuel began what would be a long, congested journey into the city, and Pepe and I had the chance to catch up on family, music and the state of all things important and trivial. It was great to have the opportunity to talk but whew, that Santiago rush hour traffic!!
[Wynton Marsalis with Jose ‘Pepe’ Josiason]
Pepe and I will be attending a reception at the U.S. Embassy in roughly one hour. He’s certain that he will be the best-dressed man there, because he can still (comfortably) wear a suit made for him in 1972 by the Modern Jazz Quartet’s (MJQ) London tailor. He is a connoisseur of art in all forms. I ask about his library, which he showed to me some 25 years ago saying, “These are all books about our music.” He tells me that “The fifteen-hundred volumes have been donated to the Central Cultural Gabriela Mistral Gam” and asks if he can change into his MJQ vine in my room.
After checking in, we realize this is a going to be a very quick turnaround. Even more tragically, there’s no chance I will have the time to counter his sharp three-piece ensemble. Our hosts, Mike and Margret Hammer are 1960’s babies and we share the commonality and communality of generation and aspiration. As we greet them and walk past a Steinway that was played by Duke Ellington (that’s what Mike said) it becomes obvious that the Embassy staff including Marianne Scott, Mary Sue Fields, Monserat Cadiz and Sandra Perroni have the joint humming. The room is populated by artists and distinguished citizens and enlivened by the whispered and shouted patter and chatter of old and new friends talking of subjects general and personal.
The reception is further inspirited by the Chilean Youth Ambassadors; a group of about 25 poised and engaged teens. They are leaving for America tomorrow and are full of fire and fresh-faced enthusiasm to begin changing the world. There is a bandstand set up in the backyard (always a positive sign) and two groups play, first a student group and then professionals with a great trumpeter named Sebastian Jordan. The group is fiery, well arranged and seasoned.
I meet many people who remember our portion of a 1990 “An Embrace Of Hope” Amnesty International concert to celebrate Chile’s freedom from the Pinochet regime. The crowd of about 80,000 mainly rock fans had a very unexpected positive response to our music. When we opened with a national song of meaning and significance, ‘Gracias a la Vida’, they were very responsive. But, when Wycliffe Gordon played a phrase reminiscent of a soccer song during his trombone solo, they sang this long chant in the exact right harmonies of the 12 bar blues. It has to be the first and only time in the world that a group that large has superimposed a melody that complex onto a harmonic form accurately and spontaneously.
It remains, for me, the single thing I will never forget in my entire performing career. It speaks to the universality of the blues AS A FORM and the ability of people to hear across cultures. After that, we all swing together for the rest of our hour. Someone actually has pictures from the gig 24 years ago. Whew! Father Time and Mother Nature are of one mind about that.
Mike makes some comments in Spanish and his delivery and demeanor creates a glow of comfort and ease. I follow suit with thanks and general comments, salutations and recognition of hospitality. It has a much deeper meaning when you are away from home and can never be taken for granted.
The next day we have a press conference in the Hall. I’m joined on the dais by Francisca Cienfuegos, Brand Manager of Brooks Brothers Chile (corporate sponsor for the concert), Teatro Municipal’s Director, Andres Pinto and the Mayor of Santiago, Carolina Toha. Brooks Brothers (also a sponsor of Jazz at Lincoln Center) is one of our longtime partners and we love and respect them deeply. In the early years we used to joke that in the era of musicians playing Jazz well, they also dressed well. As the musicians became sloppier in dress, the music also got worse. We try to do our best to uphold the sartorial tradition. Andres provides some background and context to the concerts and everyone gives general comments on the cultural significance of our visit. I am excited about being back here after such a long time.
There are general questions and then one about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. It implies a deeper inquest into American racism in general. When speaking abroad, I have a policy of not critiquing my country. I may feel a certain way, but I try to remember the need for diplomacy as an ambassador both for the music and for our country. So in answering this question, I recognize racism’s connection (not Ferguson specifically but our human legacy of exploitation) to tribalism and further observe that sadly there is something in an aggressive percentage of people that loves to degrade others. It’s so fundamental and something we all noticed even as children when many of us would watch the ‘cool’ kids pick on the helpless ones. We know it’s ignorant, but for some reason seems to be enjoyable for the particular group doing the bullying, and many of us just watch or participate passively with fake enthusiasm or turn away without doing anything because we don’t want it to be us.
Ironically, on the plane from Lima, Dan Nimmer and I were discussing the everyday slights that take place due to this ‘otherism’. While in the airport he got a firsthand glimpse. It started with a guy asking me with irrational hostility if I was in the line to get on the plane (it was a line that Dan and I were very obviously standing in). I answered ‘yes’. Clearly this reply was insufficient, because he proceeded to loudly clear his throat when we didn’t move forward fast enough (the line was not yet moving). He then prepared to get cussed out (at best).
The lesson in ‘how to aggravate a person’ continued once we were on the plane. Our flight attendant pushed my bag (that was already under the seat) under the seat and under the seat again, until finally she accepted that it was under the seat. Clearly this didn’t suffice because in retaliation she moved my seat up (when it was already moved up) and moved it up again and finally accepted that it was already moved up.
Observing all of these little gestures of affection, The Nim said,” Damn! Is it like that?” I said, “Nimsky, It can be.” He laughed and said, “They don’t even know. It’s embedded in their system.” But compared to the actual racism we experienced growing up in Louisiana, these are just slights that could be interpreted either way. And either way, they are irritations and not real problems, like an unjust prison sentence or it being acceptable for you to be shot by law enforcement OR YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS OR NEIGHBORS because you look the wrong way and are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Teatro Municipal is a magnificent Italian-style proscenium theatre. The staff members are the very definition of hospitality. It is one of the most well managed halls that we’ve ever played. Everyone here is absolutely professional and exudes community. The audience sits back with the pride of ownership. They inhabit the space with an easy formality, and because there is no air conditioning, we can see people fanning themselves and their children. It’s a beautiful sight that reminds me of church for some reason. Anyway, heat is conducive to swinging and I love to work up a sweat playing. When a hall is too cold, it saps the feeling……to me.
[Teatro Municipal de Santiago]
[Paul Nedzela and Ted Nash backstage at Teatro Municipal de Santiago]
That night, we play a combination of traditional and original pieces. This is something we like to do when introducing our music and ourselves. The range, sophistication and soul of our music are all that we have, and we were offering it to our audience as honestly as we could. I felt the orchestra was playing with a lot of poise and balance, and I think our earlier experience of playing too loudly in our first concert in Mexico City’s magnificent Pallacio de Bellas Artes informed our thinking. We relaxed and let the music speak for itself. The highlight of this concert was the audience. They were the most enthusiastic we have probably ever encountered. Almost as if a continuation from that Amnesty concert 24 years ago, we were embraced with uncommon attentiveness and fell into a euphoric solidarity. We played four encores and left drenched in sweat, satisfaction and with a panorama of emotions and memories.
[Standing ovation from a fully engaged audience at at Teatro Municipal de Santiago]
Pepe, Ali and I hang out after the gig at the Jazz Corner. Here’s Ali’s impression,
"The Jazz Corner is hip. It’s curated by the humorous and hospitable trompetista Christian Cuturrufo. His partner Alvaro is a big fan of Jazz and vino sabroso de Chile.
As we walked through the door, we were immediately received with jubilation and warmth. Musicians were on the bandstand swinging and before long we joined in that same pursuit. Our playing was uplifted by the people’s belief in that belief, high quality intention was on the menu. It’s always an honor to share the real life bandstand connection with musicians all around the world.”
I met Christian those 24 years ago when we were both kids. In advance of this visit he wrote an extremely complimentary article in the major newspaper about the significance of our trip. His words helped to add to the anticipation and excitement surrounding our arrival and we are very grateful. Having grown up in clubs they always feel like home. This is the same for Ali. When we hang in clubs we often reflect on our fathers (both musicians) and their internal and external struggles. I tell him the impact he and his teenage friends had on our septet in the early 90’s when we would see them in the audience at gigs in Detroit, all well dressed and eager.
After listening and fellowshipping with the room, we have a jam with 3 trumpets playing from various positions in the room. I am standing so close to the bell of Christian’s flugelhorn I can hear every nuance of his articulation. It’s beautiful and I just watch him intently. We lock eyes following the logic of his solo. It’s as if he is talking directly to me but much deeper and impactful than any words. It’s thoughts, emotions and decisions forced-to-be-actual by the pressure of time. We laugh when he finishes in recognition of all that he has played through the chord changes and in time.
Jazz is a magical language. We all play across the room to and with each other in the type of human public intimacy that is the province only of jazz, co-creation.
The house is festive and responsive to musicians all around them playing and listening together. I looked up and Manuel tells me he was driving Pepe back to the hotel to get his car. I was surprised to see that Pepe had hung to 2am. I was worried about him because he walks so quickly. I’d say “look out for this or look out for that.” He got tired of hearing that and said, “Look, I’m careful when I’m walking. I’m only not careful when I’m driving.” I have to laugh. The spirit of people here is just beautiful. Manuel was supposed to go home after dropping us off at the club yet he came back to pick Ali and me up at 2:30 in the morning. It’s the little things like this that stay in your mind and heart. We left full.
[Graffiti spotted a few blocks away from the barbershop]
The next day Fernando and I went to get haircuts. As we got deeper into the bohemian neighborhood of the shop, I was struck by the quality of the graffiti I saw on the buildings. After a few more blocks I think this may be the best crafted, most diverse, inventive and voluminous graffiti in the world. In the barbershop, the radio was playing Resphigi’s ‘Pines of Rome’. Every symphonic brass player in the world loves that piece because we get to do our thing lyrically and loudly. Afterwards we try to find a music notation notebook. It’s a trip; Fernando says everyone gives directions by the Andes Mountains. “Turn toward the mountains, turn away from the mountains etc”.
Today the cats have a lineup of education events. Here’s Marcus’s take:
"Today in Santiago I taught a masterclass to 50 brass players (trumpet, trombone and french horn) and critiqued two big bands. The brass masterclass was for the Pro Jazz Association. Many of the participants were from the classical world. This masterclass was intended to show the parallels between practicing classical and jazz music. I decided to show them my routine for long tones. We discussed how long tones help create a beautiful sound, increase breath capacity, strengthen endurance and build range. We then did my daily long tone routine for the next 20 minutes.
[Marcus Printup leading a workshop]
Next we talked about tonguing. I taught them an exercise from the Goldman trumpet method book. I showed them how they can expand this exercise by:
A. Playing it in all 12 keys using the cycle of 4ths.
B. Place the metronome on beats 2 and 4 to incorporate a swing feel.
They especially liked the 2 and 4 swing concept as they are used to playing on beats 1 and 3.
Next we talked about the importance of incorporating blues into our jazz playing. I described the blues as a style and as a form. After establishing the 12 bar form of the blues, I demonstrated how to bend notes to emulate the vocal quality that informs the style of the blues. We did a call and response exercise where I sang/played and they answered.
A student asked how to invent ideas during improvisation. I explained the importance of what I call “innovation by imitation” OR transcribing solos from the masters. I’m presently working on an Art Farmer solo to “Falling in love with love”. I have an app called “The Amazing Slow Downer” on my phone that isolates the recording and repeats sections over and over.
I played along with the recording and explained the importance of mimicking every nuance of Art Farmer’s brilliant solo. This establishes musical vocabulary that, through repetition, will develop interpretation from our own context just as we do when learning the meaning behind words and creating sentences with even more meaning.
I explained how one must go outside of their comfort zone in finding their original sound. Another student said that he was having an issue finding his own voice. I explained that I was raised in the South and came from the rich tradition of gospel and soul music. I demonstrated singing “Amazing Grace” with no feeling, then sang it again with emotion. Whenever I sing or play Amazing Grace, I become emotional. I had to fight back tears during my demonstration. I shared this with my students. I explained where the tears came from. Gospel music grounds me and gives me sense of security and faith. It is the deepest part of me and sparks the most sincere emotions. I remember my mama, daddy and granddaddy singing this since I was little and the melody alone always hits a soft spot. That being said, I asked the same student to play something from his culture that personified a deep part of his soul. He played a traditional Chilean song, Gracias a la Vida.
He played it flat like it was an exercise. I asked him what the song meant. The message of the song is “life is beautiful.”
I then asked him to close his eyes and reflect on the beauty of the words and to sing. He was very shy and refused but somehow we convinced him to sing it. He was transformed and surprised himself with the emotional depth he discovered. I then asked him to play it with the same emotion and passion as he did when he sang. As he played, EVERYONE in the room started to hum the melody. It was special.
The first Big Band I critiqued was also from Pro Jazz and the other band was a middle school band from the Conchali organization.
The Pro Jazz band played Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and had 3 talented female vocalists singing a vocalese-style melody. I challenged them to sing their harmonized parts a capella and much slower, so they could feel the swinging rhythms without the aid of the rhythm section. They did great! They stayed in tune AND were swinging. Their parts were all written so I wanted to hear them improvise. We traded improvised phrases over the form of the tune. They had never done this before but were not in the least bit shy. We spoke about how vocalists should scat like horn players and horn players should play like vocalists. I told them to listen to Louis Armstrong to learn phrasing. I asked the lead vocalist who she listened to. She said “Ella, Sarah and Cecile McLorin Salvant !!” I loved them getting Cecile in there.
The middle school band needed a bit more shaping. They played their parts individually, without any connection to each other. This is a common problem in many young bands. I had them slow the tune down AND play softer so they could hear each other. The horns were oblivious to the rhythm section and the rhythm section didn’t play the arrangement with the horns.
Our lead trumpet player, Ryan Kisor, always talks about the importance of listening to the ride cymbal as a reference of time. Our original drummer, Herlin Riley, would request a copy of the lead trumpet part to reference the melody. Our current drummer, Ali Jackson, requests chord changes in his part for harmonic reference. After rehearsing isolated sections repeatedly, they started to get it. We then talked about how to avoid rushing syncopated rhythms. I taught them to internally feel the rests by singing the written notes and grunting the rests so the phrase is continuous.
The second band was much younger. The average age was 14. These kids were hungry! They played an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” The young bassist was plugged into the amp. He turned it off and played acoustically for the first time. We discussed how relying on an amp hinders the process of developing a natural bass sound. The rhythm section was positioned far away from each other, so I changed their position so they could see and hear each other. They were swinging.
At this age, students are just learning how to play their instruments so sometimes teaching them about playing with feeling is premature. But that was not the case with these kids. I had them sing their parts. We focused on the nuances our voices make, like crescendos, accents and vibrato. After 5 minutes of this, they began to sound like a different band.
The brass had a few sections with plunger mutes. The late great Clark Terry gave me a lesson in 1989. He cut a hole in my plunger mute so I could establish a wider sound. He then explained the 5 positions of the plunger mute. Lastly, Clark taught me that the plunger mute is an extension of your voice. I proudly felt CT’s energy and passion and shared this information with these students. CT LIVES!!
These kids were like sponges! I look forward to hearing them again. There was an audience of over 600 people watching this clinic and they were amazingly quiet and attentive. The Chilean people have been a joy to be around. They truly love our culture of Jazz music. It was a fantastic day.”
And for every event there is a lot of behind the scenes coordinating. We are fortunate to work with dedicated partners and staff. Marianne Scott, Public Affairs Officer for the US Embassy did us proud with her extraordinary work. Here’s her take on a significant cross cultural exchange.
"The bus route to Santiago from the city of Chillan is straight north for five hours through valleys of vineyards with the Pacific ocean about 90 miles on your left and the Andes mountains about 90 miles on your right. On March 21, the first day of autumn, it should be cooling down but on this Saturday it was still mid-summer hot the entire trip. Public high school students of English and their teachers made the long trek from Chillan and more northern cities of Curicó, and Vina del Mar, to Santiago to participate with students from the Santiago region in the Jazz Conversation in English with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
About 160 English students and teachers filled the stifling, ornate Sala Arrau of the neoclassical Teatro Municipal in Santiago for an afternoon organized by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional English Language Office to give Chilean public school students – almost always from disadvantaged backgrounds – an opportunity to practice their English and learn about jazz from Victor Goines and Greg Gisbert, backed up by Chile’s own big band “Los Big Guns de Santiago” directed by Carl Hammond. English is a mandatory high school subject in this middle-income, flute-shaped country hugging the lower Pacific-side of South America. Nevertheless, English proficiency is very low even though English is a foundation for better educational opportunities and jobs in this country that relies heavily on international trade. Only about 3% of Chileans are proficient in English.”
The Big Guns started off this ‘Jazz Conversation in English’ with the right note – Launching Pad by Duke Ellington and from there the questions flew. Where does your inspiration come from? When and where did jazz start? How long do you practice? Why did you decide to become a musician? What does jazz say to modern society?
[Victor Goines works with students in Santiago, Chile]
When Victor asked the students how many played an instrument, very few raised their hands. One said this was the first time he had ever heard jazz live. Victor challenged them all to pick up an instrument and play. ’Music is also a language and if you learn the language you can be part of the conversation whether that is English or music’ he told them. Victor added that ‘when we are speaking English we are composing in real time.’ Greg confessed that English was usually his worst subject in school but that he loves teaching and ‘teaching is about learning together.’ He also stressed that ‘Music with purity of intention brings people together.’ Talking about John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and how it inspired him to become a jazz musician, Victor advised the students that no matter what they decide to pursue to always ‘play beyond your comfort zone.’”
From the JALC staff side we are fortunate to have Matt Butterman from our education department out here with us. He is assisting with making the classes happen. He remembers, “There were several instances upon arriving in Santiago, Chile that someone told me of their personal experience with Wynton when he visited nearly 25 years ago. They show me pictures and recount their stories as if it happened just the day before. ‘Wynton was playing drums, then I played drums, and we traded jamming like this for 5 hours. And then we jammed again for two evenings in a row after that. It was incredible!’ It was amazing to hear how these experiences had a profound impact on their lives and how it ultimately benefited their students in the years since.”
"The range of students we encountered this week was tremendous; middle school jazz musicians, adult musicians, college students, and even non-music students. Every student encountered a different experience and took away something unique. I most dig the lasting impact of these experiences. Which is also why I love our Youth Programs at JALC."
"I have no idea what these Chilean kids will be doing in 25 years, and how their experiences with us will shape in anyway a part of their lives. But I’d like to think we are helping to put them on a positive path, or at the very least making jazz a lasting part of their lives. I want, and hope, students from our Youth Programs will tell their friends and family with pride they were a member of the Middle School Jazz Academy, or the Youth Orchestra, or the Youth Workshop and the great Kenny Rampton when they were in school. And it was because of this experience…Duke Ellington is…jazz is…Jazz at Lincoln Center is…"
"I do believe that the kids in the Conchali big band will remember their workshop with Marcus Printup for the rest of their lives. The English students in the conversation with Victor and Greg will gain an interest in jazz, and maybe seek to learn more because of that afternoon - they will remember they took a bus for 5 hours to hear Victor Goines and Greg Gisbert play jazz and tell them what jazz is, why they love it, and what it means to them. Learning English will open doors for those students and jazz helped, at least a little, in that process."
"It was wonderful to hear how Wynton’s visit 25 years ago deeply affected the lives of the few musicians I encountered, and I’m more inspired to think of what the 1,251 students we directly engaged with this week will share about their experience with jazz and Jazz at Lincoln Center for the next 25 years."
After all that incredible teaching and learning, I love what the students asked Sherman at the end of his masterclass. It is a question I was asked many times after classes for general students in schools all across America.
"There was a saxophone sectional with about 30 students from different music programs. Although there was a translator, we all decided to talk with our saxophones. I played a low concert Bb, and gestured for them to play theirs. It was evident we needed to spend some time working on how to play the saxophone. They didn’t need help playing fast patterns and exotic scales. They needed to learn how to play the full range of the instrument with a full, personal sound, using dynamics and vibrato; all of the devices a musician needs to play MUSIC."
"After 45 minutes of that, they began to see how much they needed to practice on those basic skills. We spent the remaining time listening to sax sections from two of the schools. We discussed the basic problems every band has; balance, the willingness to follow the lead, and the importance of personalizing everyone’s part. One topic we spent time on is the understanding of the groove of jazz, especially how syncopation fits inside the swing groove. The entire session lasted about 105 minutes, and they left with an understanding of what they need to work on. The most interesting part of the clinic was, of course, at the very end of the session. A few of the students approached me and asked, "Señor, what is your name?"
[Night two at Teatro Minicipal de Santiago]
For our second concert we featured great compositions and arrangements from King Oliver and Jelly Roll to Eddie Durham and Duke Ellington to Gil Evans, Monk and Victor Goines. If we thought the previous night’s audience was something, tonight’s was not to be outdone. They responded with such sensitivity to so many songs, I cannot choose a favorite. When it ended, the audience treated us to 6 encores. This is the most ever in my years of playing in the big band. As the experience years ago in the stadium was indelible, so too the reception for these performances. We will never forget.
[A standing ovation from the audience at Teatro Minicipal de Santiago]
Manuel, Pepe and I set out after the gig for the club Thelonious. As we head out Pepe says he was impressed by the size and enthusiasm of the audience. He recalls a Louis Armstrong concert in the 50’s that he emceed and a Duke concert in the late 60’s. He says he was proud of the audience’s enthusiasm for quality and that he also respected that we played MUSIC and did not go in for antics or flash. This was high praise coming from him.
Thelonious is owned by poet Irwin Diaz. Their menus have the famous Monk Underground album cover on the front. For that alone the club deserves immortality. It is very comfortable with what looks like bleachers in a little alcove to the left of the bandstand. I’ve never seen anything like that. People are in here to listen to the music. Pepe is proud because a drink on the menu is named after him. Double espresso with Baileys I think. He says Melissa Aldana learned to play here (he knows I love her playing). The musicians are in here swinging tonight! My man, Sebastian Jordán is blowing the bell off of the trumpet and everyone is creating the heat and energy that is particular to a swinging club late at night.
On the set breaks Thelonious shows films of the great musicians in history. Wes Montgomery was lighting the screen up which is across from the hundreds of books of poetry that line a back wall. The food, drink and happiness is flowing. Our whole trumpet section comes in and we are digging Sebastian’s playing. Gizzy takes some great chorus’ on I Got Rhythm, Kenny on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and Marcus on “Footprints”. Ali sits in on “I Mean You” and commandeers a solo in spite of happy horn players. We must always remember to respect the rhythm section.
We swing until late into the night and then out into the street taking photos with various musicians and cats who were looking into the club and just hanging. We reach the hotel at about 3am. I embrace Pepe and we give each other the “this may be the last time look.” He notices it and says, “Maybe I will see you in New York.” But he doesn’t believe it. I said. “I really hope to be back here soon. Y’all took care of us.”
[Wynton says goodbye to Pepe]
At the airport, we get the bags out and Manuel says, “yeah man.” I said, “let’s get this picture.” And we do.’