Wynton Marsalis: Of jazz and spoken word

23 Feb 2009

CD cover

Wynton Marsalis needs little introduction. He is considered as one of modern jazz’s most prominent composers and trumpeters. His music is a mix of jazz, swing and blues but he is also admired as a gifted instrumentalist in classical music.

Currently the Artistic Director of jazz at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, the 9-time Grammy Award winner also has the distinction of being the first jazz composer to win a Pulitzer Prize in music for his three CD-set Blood On the Fields (Columbia, 1995).

While he is notoriously known for disliking hip hop, going so far as characterising it as “the modern minstrel show,” his relative youth is nonetheless reflected in his love for spoken word.

In his latest album entitled He and She, Marsalis trades the trumpet for a poet’s pen through several spoken word interludes introducing his musical tracks. But ever the nostalgic, the feel of the album is definitely still rooted in the old southern narratives.

Perhaps that’s where some of the criticism levied against his spoken word skills come from. If you’re expecting to hear the mad skills of an urban slam poet, this album may not be for you. But if you’re also open to actually experiencing masterful jazz aesthetics, accompanied with introspective poetry, your needs will be fulfilled.

In a recent interview on the Charlie Rose Show, Wynton Marsalis said that one of his greatest influences in poetry is the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). Yeats had a technique in his poetry of using the form “then he”, followed by a column, and then make a man speak; and then use “then she” and have the woman speak. This is what inspired Marsalis for his album He and She.

He and She, his fifth album with the Blue Note label, is an ode to the sometimes complicated relationships between men and women.

“All the songs country bluesmen sing about ever loving love and a one-night fling. About how a woman can take more than a man can ever bring. Oh yeas, a man and a woman is a dangerous thing.”

With the above and other poetic prose peppered in He and She, Marsalis seems convinced that a man is no match for a woman in the game of love.

He and She has a total of 22 tracks. The album can be previewed here:

Wynton Marsalis will perform on the ‘Late Show with David Letterman’ on Wed May 13th.


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