WYNTON MARSALIS / “In The Sweet Embrace Of Life”
Wynton Marsalis is the leading jazz musician of his generation. Given his success as a classical musician, some would argue that he is the leading musician, period, of his generation. Regardless of how you cut it, Wynton Marsalis is an imposing figure on the music scene.
Bird might have figuratively built Birdland, but Wynton’s leadership at Lincoln Center is on a whole other level. He probably has more grammies than other jazz musician. From the cover of Time magazine to an iconic figure in recent iPod ads, Wynton Marsalis is certainly the most recognized and bankable jazz musician of his generation.
All of that’s alright but the real question is “can he play?” When all jazzheads ask that question, they are asking about more than technique. The answer is yes and no—sometimes it’s hell yeah, other times you would have to wake me up to get an answer. Part of the reason for my equivocation about Wynton’s prowress as a jazz player is based on the fact that Wynton wants to be known as a serious composer.
Unfortunately, if we use the criteria of other people playing your music, Wynton has not been that successful, certainly not when we compare him to the major jazz artists that preceded him, such as Ellington, Trane and even Miles. Nevertheless it is true that more than anyone else alive today, Wynton has influenced the development of jazz through program’s for children, direct and in-direct mentoring of younger musicians, and through setting an example that many others emulate.
So, with that said, in support of the “Wynton is bad mutha as a jazz musician” school of thought we now offer as exhibit A thru Z, "The Sweet Embrace of Life," a 54-minute cut taken from the Live at the Village Vanguard box set. So far that box set in general and this cut specifically are the best Wynton document extant. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with that, I rest my case.
Read Mtume’s comments. I’m the jazzhead but in this case, Mr. Hip Hop has some interesting insights.
Meanwhile, on a totally unrelated note, I want to once again thank Mtume for unsetting the apple cart and coming out of left field with a suggestion. Sometimes right up until we post the website round midnight (or a little after) on Saturday nights, exactly what will be uploaded to BoL is not finalized. In my opinion, although it’s good to plan (and more often than not, we do reach some agreements in advance), the fact remains, part of the charm of the black aesthetic is a heavy reliance of improvisation (i.e. making things happen in the moment).
Improvising is an art. Not everyone can improvise well. We’ve been doing BoL for over a year now, and it still remains fresh for us. We still surprise ourselves and each other. I hope BoL is as exciting for our many, many visitors worldwide, as it is for father Kalamu and son Mtume.
At this point, and of course subject to change, we are thinking about doing a Trane week.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
You can't go wrong…
I don't have much to say about Wynton Marsalis' status as a leading musician, jazz or otherwise. Truth is, I don't have a deep enough knowledge of the history of the music (meaning, jazz) to have an informed opinion. But I will say that I like many of his albums. Majesty Of The Blues, Black Codes (From The Underground) and the Soul Gestures in Southern Blue trilogy are some of my favorites. But the best Wynton Marsalis release—in my humble opinion, of course—is the 7-CD boxed set, Live At The Village Vanguard. (Yes, the same release that includes "In The Sweet Embrace Of Life" and "Embraceable You.") The box set includes versions of so many of Wynton's well-known tunes, that it's not only a live document, it also functions almost as an expanded Best Of collection.
What makes this box set so good? 1_ The way I hear it, the musicianship on these live versions is more dynamic than the studio versions. The musicians swing harder and solo better. The live arrangements are generally very close to the studio ones, but still, there's something about the live versions that just grabs me. 2_ The breadth of the music is tremendous. Over the years, Wynton and his various bands have played a wide variety of styles, from post-bop to New Orleans swing to traditional to blues. This box set covers over four years of Wynton's appearances at the Vanguard, and the music he plays covers virtually his entire career. 3_ It's a bargain. The 7-CD Live At The Village Vanguard is only $39.98 brand-new and you can easily find it used for around $20. So click the link and check it out. You can't go wrong.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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