Marsalis on jazz: ‘If you don’t have a cultural base, you don’t know who you are’

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wynton
wynton

Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis joined Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Jazz at Lincoln Center, for which he serves as Managing and Artistic Director.

“We don’t understand that the arts and culture help us to focus our political and financial aspirations,” Marsalis told Mitchell. “If you don’t have a cultural base, you don’t know who you are. And we have such an identity crisis in this time and one of the ways for us to solve that is to focus and concentrate on what has been achieved in the arts in this country and to know who our great artists are.”

He spoke about Jazz at Lincoln Center’s music programs for students in New York City and around the world. The organization offers an early childhood jazz education program called “We Bop” for toddlers, high school jazz band festivals and competitions, and a jazz history classes for adults through “Swing University.” “It’s really been a blessing for parents and kids,” Marsalis said. “It has a profound impact because jazz speaks to your individuality and gives you the tools to learn how to negotiate with other people and have respect for their creativity also.”

Marsalis traveled to Cuba in 2010 with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra–one of few foreign bands to visit the country–and performed with young musicians in workshop settings, recorded music with Cuban artists and performed in concert. Travel restrictions between the two countries have been eased by the Obama administration, allowing American and Cuban musicians an opportunity that had been lacking for decades.

“The one thing that struck me most of all, from years of teaching our kids, the one difference is that they don’t have a generation gap. So it’s not surprising to see 15- or 16- or 14-year-old students cheering an ear-training teacher who’s in her 50s or 60s,” Marsalis told Mitchell of his experience in Cuba. “I thought it portended well for us in this country, that some of the things that we may have needed to move our culture along, that came in from the 1950s and 60s are not needed right now.”

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Marsalis on jazz: 'If you don't have a cultural base, you don't know who you are'

Updated