Grammy-award-winning jazz trumpeter, composer and artistic director for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis joins the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for a four-day long residency filled with performances and civic activities for Detroit’s youth. Before coming to Detroit, Marsalis sits down with WRCJ Radio’s ‘Swing Set’ Host Linda Yohn for an exciting conversation about what’s on tap during his residency. Marsalis will be accompanied by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as well as other jazz greats like conductor William Eddins.
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The two talk about the types of musical works audiences can see from Marsalis DSO residency, and he revels in the community of players he’ll be surrounded by, including Detroit Jazz legend Marcus Belgrave’s son Kasan Belgrave and clarinetist Anthony McGill. Marsalis also shares more about his “The Democracy! Suite” record and the connections that music has to the challenges of our current society.
Linda Yohn, WRCJ: May I say, Mr. Wynton Marsalis, that Detroit loves you madly?
Wynton Marsalis: Oh, thank you, Linda. It’s great to see you and to talk to you. And you know, I love Detroit. So many great musicians come from there. And I had so many great experiences. I always remember the great Marcus Belgrave and all that he contributed.
Roy Brooks, I mean, so many so many great, great musicians.
Linda Yohn: So you’re coming to Detroit, you’ll be part of a big residency at the DSO, and I’ll just mention it right up front. Kasan Belgrave’s going to be in that band.
Wynton Marsalis: That’s right. Kasan is playing with us. I love it. It’s like having one of your grandkids or your kid play with you. So, we’re looking for–there’s some hard parts to play, too, that “Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs,” that’s a difficult saxophone part.
Linda Yohn: Well, he’s got it. He’s got it. When you come to Detroit, and it’ll be a residency at the DSO for four days, as I understand. Will you be focusing mostly on the “Democracy Suite”?
Wynton Marsalis: No, we’re playing Stravinsky, “Ebony Concerto,” “Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs” Bernstein. They’re going to be playing a piece that I wrote called “Blues Symphony”. We’re doing a Jazz for Young People’s Concert.
The great Anthony McGill is playing the clarinet solo, so you have to check him out. He’s unbelievable. We’re doing different educational activities with the DSO Civic Youth Ensemble and we’re just going to be in the house playing.
We’re going to do a concert just with the band for different music that we play with the theme of freedom. We might play some of the “Democracy Suite” also.
Linda Yohn: I know people can go to your website, Wynton, and they can hear you talk about it, but I think it’s important. And can you talk about the “Democracy Suite” for Detroit?
Wynton Marsalis: Well, it has eight movements, and each movement it looks at the things we’ve experienced in this time and it uses the language of jazz. It’s all instrumental.
There are no words, but everything from just the determination and resolve it takes for people who are health care workers to do their job to the presentness of people who are involved in the protests, even though we’re in a pandemic, risking their health and putting their social concerns above their own safety in some instances, to the loss of loved ones in this time that you don’t get a chance to visit with and sit with to Black Lives Matter, the slogan that everybody has heard and those different things that it signifies to the period before the election when mailboxes were bouncing away like, you know, your postmaster general is making your mailbox disappear.
So I love to see the irony and the humor in that to the feeling of people just out in the street getting down, doing their thing, the different types of parade music and that kind of human will to find a groove no matter how bad the circumstance is.
And that’s a few of the movements. And there are others.
Linda Yohn: And we’ve said this at Detroit Jazz Festivals, and it bears repeating is that the Detroit audience knows the music and so you can’t come playing lame. You cannot, you know, phone it in in Detroit. You’ve got to be real.
Wynton Marsalis: You know, the first time I played in Detroit was with Art Blakey.
And it was for like two weeks now, and it just is so many, so many people knowledgeable about the music and, you know, do not forget Mack Avenue Records, too, coming out of Detroit. I mean, Detroit is…yeah. Gretchen is for real. Yeah. They’ve kept the vibe going and a belief in the music in a time when commercialism has taken over and is so celebrated that that type of integrity is something we have to always make sure we give special notes to.
Yeah, because, you know, if we don’t, we’ll look up and it will actually finally be gone. It’s like, can you cut every tree down eventually? Yeah, you can.
Linda Yohn: Well, welcome back to the city. I understand that this appearance in Detroit, this residency, is actually the first time that you’re going to be back on the road since the pandemic started. What a way to start.
Wynton Marsalis: The whole ensemble. Yes. Yeah. Let’s see how we deal with it. We’re ready. We’re ready to do it.
Linda Yohn: I know you are. And how good will it feel to be, you know, not working with just the septet, but with, you know, with kids, with students in person? How good is that going to feel to you?
Wynton Marsalis: Yeah. So it’s, you know, a pandemic if it has done anything, it’s made us appreciate the lives we had. So it’s going to is going to have not describable. But we look forward to it. You know, it’s hard to find words for it.
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