It's kind of difficult to know where exactly to begin or what to include in this post, the 4th in my series on African American musicians in honor of Black History Month.
The story of Wynton Marsalis is unfinished. He is six months and three days younger than my own daughter, and much of his life has yet to be experienced and then recorded for posterity. In spite of his youth, however (he's only 47!), he has garnered more awards, commendations, honorary degrees, and fame than most of us would ever even dream of achieving in a much longer lifetime!
[My daughter knew him from NOCCA - the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts - when they were both studying there in the late 70's. His biography in Wiki doesn't even mention NOCCA (interesting!). It says that he attended Benjamin Franklin High School. Well, he did (as did my daughter), but it would have been for a half day ... the other half was spent at NOCCA.
There's a really nice write-up about NOCCA here, if you'd like to learn more about this unique school. Ellis Marsalis, Wynton's dad, taught music theory there. I happened to run into Ellis on the riverfront some years later, when I was visiting for some reason - probably a bridge tournament. I'd heard about the many changes in that area, and wanted to walk along the water to see some of them for myself. Ellis was there. We immediately recognized each other, and spent the next several minutes talking about the 'good old days' as well as oohing and aahing about all the new additions and improvements to the downtown area.
Here's a great shot of Ellis (proud daddy) and Wynton ... ...
The two of them made more than one recording together. There are many such available on YouTube for your enjoyment.
Altho he is younger than my daughter, she remembered him as being older. Actually, the oldest son in the Marsalis family is Branford, a musician of no little accomplishment himself! My daughter remembers Branford as being a whole lot more "fun". She says that Wynton was extremely intense and totally focused on only one thing, his music. (I venture to say that's probably what it takes to have a meteoric rise such as the one he has enjoyed. Something has to "give".) One of the reasons she might have thought he was older than she was that he graduated from high school and then entered the Julliard School of Music in New York City when he was only 17 years old.]
Wynton has been recording since the early 80's. He has won many Grammy Awards, and was the first and only recipient of a Grammy in the same year for both jazz and classical compositions ... the 1st in 1983, and then again in 1984.
Long known for his outspokedness on the subject of jazz and his somewhat narrow views on jazz history, Wynton has been both praised and criticized for his publicly stated and published opinions. There is no one, however, who can quarrel with his contributions in bringing this genre back into the forefront of the public's mind over the past 25+ years.
The name Wynton Marsalis has become so intertwined with jazz that we sometimes forget some of his other interests and accomplishments. Before I continue with this discussion, I'd like to recommend that you follow this link, where you will be able to see, hear, and enjoy him performing the first movement of Joseph Haydn's "Trumpet Concerto in Eb".
What was most impressive to me while watching and listening to this live performance was the fact that Wynton memorized this! That is not required of soloists. In fact, often - if you are looking for it - you will see sheet music somewhere nearby.
Wynton has been commissioned to compose oratorios, in addition to music for dance (including ballet). In 1997, he received the Pulitzer Prize (denied to Duke Ellington some 32 years prior for a jazz composition) for his epic "Blood on the Fields", on the subject of slavery.
[When my daughter was living in Monterey, California in the late 80's, she happened to run across Wynton on Cannery Row one day. They hadn't seen each other in at least ten years, and both were surprised at the accidental meeting. After that initial surprise, the next many mutually-enjoyable minutes were spent sharing what had been happening with each during the interim.
It seems that Wynton was in Monterey with his group and they were planning to perform that evening at a small club - 100 seats or so - in town. Did she want to go? (He had tickets for her if she would like to do so.) Well, I guess! One of life's really neat and warmer fuzzies!!]
In more recent years, Wynton seems to have mellowed just a bit. In fact, just this past year he and Willie Nelson paired up in "Two Men with the Blues". I'm going to close this post with a YouTube presentation of the two of them in concert. Don't expect much in the way of special effects, visually (there aren't any!), but do listen. You're in for a real treat!
By the way, Stephen Thomas Erlewine provides a very nice introduction and background for this video here. I recommend that you read it. Now, the link I gave you gets you directly to the YouTube recording that you might have just watched. Wait until the video loads and the music starts all over again, then stop it if you wish, or listen again, your choice - it's worth listening to again - and scroll over to where you see "(more info)" under "2channeltv" ... click on (more info), and you'll get that really good information I was just telling you about.