Wynton Marsalis: Recognizing a blues song should be part of application for U.S. citizenry

Share this:

Wynton Marsalis, in a talk on protecting the legacy of American music for future generations, offered a bold suggestion: That identifying a blues song ought to be part of any citizenship test.

“If you can’t do that,” Marsalis said, “you are not ready to be here yet.”

Marsalis made the statement while in the midst of a six-lecture tenure at Harvard University, one of which last more than four hours. Described as part history lesson, part concert, part spoken-word poetry reading, Marsalis’ talks have taken in musical figures from Charlie Parker to Bessie Smith to Woody Guthrie.

The test involved with becoming a naturalized citizen of the U.S. includes questions involving the Constitution (“What is the supreme law of the land?”), the Bill of Rights (“What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?”), and representative government (“Name your U.S. Representative”). No word on whether questions regarding Muddy Waters, going down to the crossroads, or big-legged women are to be added any time soon.

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Paul Simon, and on Marsalis’ work with Nelson and Clapton. Click through the headlines for complete reviews …

WYNTON MARSALIS AND ERIC CLAPTON, “LAYLA” (2011): After a desultory, red-light district blast of horns, the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra settles into this funereal rhythm, swaying from side to side as Eric Clapton rips off a few blues-simmered, heartfelt asides. If you hadn’t checked the liner notes, the song itself — a signature moment for the guitarist as a member of Derek and the Dominos — would remain unrecognizable, almost 1:30 into the tune. It’s only when the band quiets itself for the initial verse — “what will you do when you get lonely,” Clapton sings, to a surprised round of applause from the New York audience — that “Layla” reveals itself.

WILLIE NELSON AND WYNTON MARSALIS – LIVE FROM JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER NYC (2008): Settling in with this project, you’re waiting for fresh, sharp angles — and they arrive, but not because the two principals ostensibly come from such different places. They share more common ground than either perhaps came in knowing. Nelson isn’t just a hillbilly picker: “He understands,” Wynton says of Willie at one point during the film, “the whole of the country.” Marsalis, meanwhile, has had great success moving outside the structure of jazz into a grinding blues. More particularly, they both believe, you can see, that it’s not about category so much as soul — in that elemental moment when your heart splashes inside your chest.

WYNTON MARSALIS – THE MAGIC HOUR (2004): The sweetest of swinging homecomings – like time spent laughing with old friends on a front porch. We have Marsalis returning finally to small-band work – where he once sparked the kind of mainstream interest in a jazz trumpeter enjoyed long ago by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. We have Marsalis again beside music industry veteran Bruce Lundvall, who signed Wynton to his very first record deal in 1980. We have Marsalis finally returning to the driving rhythms and lyrical whimsy that marked his best early work, before he won Pulitzers and made records with 199 other musicians. Really. One hundred and 99 other folks.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B005DZMODI” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00000DI10″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0012GMY1E” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00000266J” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0001CNQNU” container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]

Share this:
Close