Interesting Bits|

By Hank Shteamer, Rolling Stone | “It’s self-explanatory,” Wynton Marsalis says, pointing toward the papers in front of him. “Basically, if you look at what I wrote, that says everything you need to know.”

The trumpeter had entered only about 30 seconds before, walking into a small conference room at the New York offices of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Impeccably dressed in a gray suit, he leaned in for a quick hug by way of a greeting. If Marsalis seemed a tad impatient, he had a point: The document he’d prepped did in fact speak for itself.

It was a two-page list of essential jazz recordings, containing 50 entries. Marsalis had assembled his choices in conjunction with new biopic Bolden, which tells the story of Buddy Bolden, the legendary unrecorded first hero of New Orleans jazz, and which Marsalis both executive- produced and contributed music to. Preparing for his meeting with Rolling Stone, he went deep, listing not simply artists and titles, but also characteristics explaining why he’d picked each one: “Insightful integration of the blues with disparate elements,” “Making a horn sound exactly like someone singing” and so on. Marsalis made it clear that his list was an inventory of “recordings” rather than albums, since so many of the early masterpieces of jazz arrived before the LP era.

He may have felt that his work was done in advance, but nevertheless he had plenty to say. For the next 45 minutes, he held forth to RS on 12 of his picks, frequently singing musical passages by way of illustration. Marsalis’ own written descriptions of what sets each recording apart appear in italics before the entries. (For consistency, titles below are listed according to date of recording rather than release.)

To be given an accompanying part and to hear it and play thematic material that fits in with the material that you’re given with that degree of sophistication, insight and nuance is a great display of skill. It’s very uncommon.
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King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong, “Snake Rag” (1923)

Louis Armstrong played second cornet to King Oliver — it means he’s interpreting internal harmony parts which have to resolve a certain way. He’s playing the alto part basically. King Oliver’s playing the melody. So, no written music: He’s improvising on a complex form: “Snake Rag.”

He makes up an unbelievable part. When you listen to it, how clear and logical it is and how beautiful the resolutions are of internal harmony, and he also improvises a second harmony part to King Oliver’s improvised trumpet breaks. That’s an unbelievable display of reflexes, musical understanding and ability to hear.

So, you’re making up something and I’m accompanying you while you’re making it up and I’m also playing an internal part to a part that you’re improvising. The accuracy of his parts and the clarity that he plays with in an accompaniment role is still astounding after all these years.

The speed and the quickness and the reflexes, it’s not believable. But it’s what he could do and that’s why he’s Louis Armstrong.

Read the whole story here:

Videos & stories included, but are not limited to:
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong, “Snake Rag” (1923)
Duke Ellington, “Daybreak Express” (1933)
Mary Lou Williams w-Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds of Joy, “Walkin’ and Swingin’” (1936)
Benny Goodman, The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

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