Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random Notes on Wynton Marsalis

As previously mentioned, Wynton Marsalis was the keynote speaker during Sunday's General Session of the conference that I've just attended. Attending conferences is part of the job I've had for the last six years, and after a couple of days of reflection, there's little doubt in my mind that his speech was the best conference speech I've heard in those six years (before this, I probably would have said Sidney Poitier, with Daniel Pink being a close second). Speech doesn't really do justice to what Marsalis did - it was a rich tapestry, into which he wove American history, the history of jazz, strong comments about today's popular culture, and well-thought out arguments about what should constitute a meaningful public education in this day and age.

I don't usually take notes during these, but there were so many memorable passages that in this case I did. Some of these are fragments; consider this a little experiment to see if it is possible to take those fragments and, as Marsalis did, weave them into something with meaning.

- characterized today as a "cultural bubonic plague" (reference to reality TV)

- the Constitution was a "sterling example of improvisation"

- "the freedom to choose your life and living"

- "once you let freedom loose, there's no telling where it will lead

- likened Jefferson, Madison and Adams to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk; the founding fathers "spoke the language of swing - an individual and collective responsibility"

- we must recognize the value of an artistic heritage; "how can one measure the value of an 'Amazing Grace' or a 'Yankee Doodle Dandy?'"

- likened Ralph Waldo Emerson to Monk

- "Edgar Allan Poe sang the blues before the blues was ever born"

- "No two armies on earth ever had better fight songs" [talking about the Civil War]

- With band, demonstrates the direct line between the Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Mickey Mouse Theme (chills)

- "The American artist is caught between 3 masters: the critical expert validated by hundreds of years of European tradition, the church, and the court of fickle public opinion"

- "Walt Whitman's crime? Telling us who we are"

- on the blues: "Those purporting to save souls were denying the benefits of what was coming from our souls"

- great story about Alan Freed meeting Big Al Sears (Ellington band) in college, how became lifelong friendship

- Louis Armstrong played trumpet on Jimmie Rodgers "Blue Yodel # 9" [I did not know that!]

- "we want to embrace one another but we don't know how"

- "the answer is a culturally substantive education...the point of education is not to beat anyone...we need to be educated in who we are..."

- "when you don't consider the song of yourself you become lost"

- "if you don't know where you've been, you might just end up where you started"

Hopefully, that does it some small measure of justice.


le0pard13 said...

Wow. This sounds like a speech I'd want hear/see (and share with my kids). Any chance this will be posted somewhere (like YouTube)? Thanks for posting about this.

Jeff V said...

I don't think so, but if it does show up somewhere, I'll be sure to let you know.

One thing I forgot - he was harshly critical of rap culture, essentially equating it to minstrelsy.