Before a visit to Dallas, Wynton Marsalis offers his perspective

September 20, 2007

Par his appearance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, jazz trumpet heavyweight Wynton Marsalis offered his diagnosis about the status of jazz in today’s Dallas Morning News.

“He knows that he’s an ambassador for a genre in transition, maybe even decline. But the New Orleans trumpeter hopes more education and outreach will help jazz – an American art form – achieve a renaissance,” Gromer Jeffers of the Morning News reported in a short feature.

“The music is such a powerful testimony,” Mr. Marsalis told the publication. “It’s very difficult because there is not a lot of education, not just in jazz, but the arts in general.”

“We still have a lot of work to do toward educating our audience and understanding what our art forms are and the significance of them,” he said.

Besides his own career as a performer, Marsalis’s statement seems to be his driving motivation as musical director of the much-debated Jazz at Lincoln Center. This high-profile endeavor can continue to bring funds to jazz music and keep names like John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock in the public vocabulary. Sure, the word ‘Jazz’ now glares out to Columbus Circle from the wall of the Time Warner Center (right alongside Hugo Boss), but this attempt to deliver it to the well-paying masses is said to hinder the experimental spirit that once defined the art form.

Perhaps, in the end, both sides face a similar dilemma. Excessive eliticism is undeniably dangerous, whether it takes the form of a pricy tab at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola or a careless claim that good art can only exist within the confines of underground circles.

“At this stage of my life, I run into people all of the time that said I came to their school or I taught them,” he said. “I’m proud of that kind of legacy of helping people learn and play the music,” said Marsalis.

Wherever you may fall in the Lincoln Center debate, Marsalis is making a wise move in focusing his rhetoric on education. Active education is, after all, the only proven way to salvage the public’s interest in any art form.

(image from: carolinaperformingarts.org)

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