tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 16, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST
tavis: good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with jazz great, wynton marsalis. he continues in his role as the head of jazz at lincoln center. this past sunday night he was a grammy nominee for a song performed with the lincoln center orchestra. we're glad you have joined us for a conversation with wynton marsalis coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance, working to improve financial
literacy and remove economic obstacles. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. kcet public television] tavis: always honored to have wynton marsalis on this program. the multiple award-winning jazz great heads a communication jazz outrich program all around this world. always good to see you. >> all the time. tavis: i was saying to the staff over the years doing this show, you have been on a number of
times. never in the studio. >> it is nice here. tavis: always on a satellite feed. i'm glad to have you in l.a. how have you enjoyed your time in the disney hall? >> a lot. we recorded a piece i wrote. that's right here. we took the whole band. all of us having a great time. tavis: what do you make of the person who is all the rage in music, gustavo dudamel? >> when we were in venezuela, i had the chance to go to his building. he had like five or six orchestras playing. kids from the hood. beethoven. unbelievable, they could play. he also introduced me to his two oldest teachers. trumpet players. he started with a couple of teachers and they were both
trumpet players. they have an unbelievable system. he is a great representative of that system and a great representative for young generation. tavis: i want to talk about classical music in a second. you mentioned your time with abreyu. we all saw the "60 minutes piece" in part about your traveling to cuba. what do you get out of being exposed to those young folk? we'll come back to america in a second but when you move around the world seeing you talking to kids, playing in venezuela. what do you get out of that? >> first, it helps you understand the cycle of life. you're giving them information but they are also giving you information. as you get older, for example, in our band, we have members in our band like carlos and i taught them when they were in high school and now they teach me. i said man, can you break this rhythm down? carlos was our music director in cuba.
he has been instrumental in a lot of my education. i started to develop a saying with them. they teased me all the time. you had the that familiar relationship. i said you have to follow your young leadership too. so i get so much from having an opportunity to interface with them and bring information to them and to represent our culture and our way of life. the feeling and the want and the love is unbelievable. the exchange that goes on between students and teachers or visiting people who are doing master classes. not just musicians. general classes when the students are not necessarily musicians. tavis: i'm not sure this is accurate but it was certainly my read. when i saw the "60 minutes" piece. i got the sense as i've seen footage of you around the world that there is a certain, again, my words, not yours. a certain energy. a certain enthusiasm. a certain anxiousness. a certain thirst that these kids around the world have for the
music jazz that we gave to the world that might not necessarily exist that thirst in this country. am i right or totally off base here? >> i think that -- i don't think that is really accurate. tavis: ok. that's why i'm asking. >> if i had to tell you how many times, especially when i get into like poor areas. if i deal with our kids, african-american kids and i talk to kids around they just start crying, not musicians, necessarily. because they want to feel that love. i have a lot of experience teaching. my father was a teacher. my mom was a community worker. i taught in so many schools. when you get that experience how to communicates with younger people and put that hand on them and give them that old school feeling, the maturity, a lot of our kids just need the feeling of that love. that's the frame of reference that i teach. we all teach from that same frame of reference. people who had the opportunity through this music to gain a platform and spread the mess
oovepblg this commuske it is -- message in this community. kids are distracted a lot of times. they are marketed to a lot. they are seen as a commodity. our kids are beautiful. tavis: dudamel and i had a deep conversation about this back in december for a special we did on pbs. i would be anxious for you to get in town so we can talk about this. what is the price that we are paying as a country for the abandonment of music education in our schools. i ask you that because you are the one person in this country more than anybody else who is cutting against the grain. you are still finding the worth and value in spending time and teaching these kids. ain't nobody else doing that. the school system doesn't quite see it that way. what is the price we are paying
long-term for abandoning music education? >> first of all, let's not just music education. let's call it arts. we make very bad decisions how we deal with other people in their culture. we no longer want to be a melting pot because we don't understand what has already melted. we fight for territory. we see it in our congress and political systems and our ways of life, how separated we are. when we moved out of the cities and lost all of the memory in cities, one of the highest achieve identicals is to be able to segregate yourself from everybody else. our cultures, what we did together, what did walt whitman went for all of us? what was thizz message for us? that was hurry hertance. we're battling over -- it is
like we're suffering from an identity crisis and that identity is in our arts. if we don't find it chief amongst our agenda is to teach our kids who we are as a nation and the battles we've had on this ground and how they have been successfully resolved, we can't enjoy the fruits of the labor of our ancestors. one day we will find. i always hoped that it was before i die but it may not be. we have to compete with chinese people or compete with people in india. we need more math class and science. it is the art of math and the art of science that creates all the innovation. we have a tradition of great arts. great music. we created so much great music. jazz, chief amongst our innovation. teaches us how to prize ourselves and special team speak to one another. that our kids don't know that
achievement, there is no way in the world that can be good for us. tavis: let me deconstruct what you said. i want to be clear what you're saying. jazz was created about us. negros. african-american, whatever you want to call us. we gave this to the country. we gave it to the world. when you answered the question a moment ago by what we suffer by abandoning music education, you said that jazz is our identity. i got the sense that you were talking about the nation, about the country. if you were, how is jazz part of the country's identity juxtaposed to the identity of black people? we're the ones who created it? >> who creates the thing is not as important as what the thing is. who created baseball? who created basketball? who created the space program? we could go on and on. we could argue about who created something. we're all participants in it. if you didn't have an
african-american sense of it or a european sense of it you wouldn't have jazz. if there was no slavery there would be no jazz. we spent all of our time trying to separate, that is a waste of time. black people are one of the only groups of people for some reason to express love of yourself in some way is misconstrued as a dislike for someone else. to say that the african-american created jazz doesn't mean anything bad about anglo americans. i always teach my younger jazz musicians at this point the entirety of it is your heritage. anglo american songs. the music of george gershwin. all the musicians, duke ellington, his thing was not about separating himself from
the rest of america. go to the forefathers of our music. jelly roll martin. they are not thage our music and saying this is for me. a broad riverpbing music, american music, opera that incorporates all to have people in the environment. that is the achievement of jazz. when i say our, i definitely mean all of america. it is not less pertinent for you because it comes from a black person just like a great achievement by an anglo american is less important. tavis: that's the answer i knew you were going to give. >> i get passionate about it. tavis: i know this. i wanted to make the pointer, and you made it clear that it is all of ours. at the risk of violating your personal confidence and our private conversation, i want to put this out there because i know it to be true and i really
want you to open this up. juxtaposes nicely against your comment now that jazz belongs to all of us, and yet i know that it does, you tell me, hurt, sing, disappoint. you know where i'm going. where you look out in the audience across the country and don't see african-americans in significant numbers. tell me more. >> you know, it is painful. it is painful for all the -- before me. we talked about it. we could go on and on. i saw my father and them and the gigs they did. our people don't support the arts in general and it is painful. for me, as a person who is in the arts and as someone who understands the magnitude of our contributions and the price that was paid to contribute that, that we just have not gotten that together. and i will do all that i can to get in front of our kids to try teach them, but at a certain
point, the people have to want it and come toward it. tavis: there is a biblical verse that says a froffette is honored in his -- prophet is honored in his own homeland. we can take that a bunch of different ways for the sake of our conversation, but what i'm getting at, how do you stay motivated, genius that you are, icon that you are, when you are the recipient of the white, so you are celebrated by the elites and you look out in the audience and don't see your own people. you stay motivated how? >> the people are not coming because of me. they didn't come before me. it is because of a lack of education and understanding. so it makes me more motivated. like my mother said about having an autoistic child. she learned more from him.
gets more of the attention and love. not less. that doesn't make me less. that's what our institution, jazz and lincoln center. if there were not problems we wouldn't need to be where we are. accept that and embrace that. when i go in town, in the elevator, i'm always met with love. they may not know what i do or who i am. you that dude that plays clarinet. they know love and the feeling that i have for them on a personal note. the rejection i never have felt is of me and our arts and contribution. the arts by our country. our arts by our people. and it hurts. i would will lying if i said it didn't hurt. it hurts because i know what it would do for us.
medicine that can help somebody but they can't see it. it is our job to do as much as we can to enlighten the people about it. that's what i try do. >> here in l.a. where we sit now, we're in the season of the arts. it is grammy season. it is academy award season. everybody is in town for these events. what's your sense of how, as a country, ain't talking about black folk, as a country, where this disconnect, this -- this split came between american people and a true, deep appreciation for the arts. did it ever exist? >> i think it existed at one time or the american popular song wouldn't be so well crafted. people used to have pianos in their homes. i think when the education system started to be dismantled during the first great depression in the 1930's, we
didn't recover from that. we started to confuse entertainment with art. it becomes too boring, too lost in its own devices but i just think that we started to lose and even before that, it is not necessary. art is a luxury. it is not necessary for you to work your job. you can make some money and work your job and never know who walt whitman is. the arts show that your civilized and makes life sweet. you can exist and buy more things and you can be more -- we're dealing with a form of commercialism that obscures a prior relationship to quality. it is a national problem. but you know, once again, that's what we're out here to -- when you and i are talking, i'm saying it is here. just for some reason we can't focus our attention on it.
we don't have the leadership or the understanding of this, when your political systems and your economic systems start to fail, it is only a cultural understanding that allows you to reconstruct them and get back to who you are. for some reason, it hasn't dawned on us yet. tavis: i think i hear commercialism is certainly one of the culprits for the blurring of that line, the morphing of entertainment and art. am i right about that? >> crft commercial commercials that have only a quantitative assessment of a thing. how many nutrients can i take out of your food and send it to you? how can i figure out how to give you the least amount of whatever it is and charge you the most? i'm always exploiting you. you know what i'm saying? i'm not telling you what i think
how can i get my p.r. thing so people believe. you lose a grip on reality. the unreal becomes real. the up and down. when you go home, people always say when you go home, your ma'ama makes you take the -- mama makes you take trash out and slap you upside the head. tavis: that begs the $64,000 question. recession. $54,000. deflation. how do we get back? can we get back? is the damage irreparable? >> oh, man, it is not even close to irreparable. people start to build a cathedral in 10 50rks it went be finished until 1585. they were thinking maybe by the time i die this wall might be
put up. beethoven's symphony. bach's piece. think about the conditions that bach worked in. tavis: that requires having a long view. >> it was right here and right now when he was alive. that's why they didn't like him. duke ellington's pieces are well documented with the whole boom in the electronic media, you can get all of this stuff. walt whitman, debating right now over mark twain. he is still available. winslow homer can still be seen. we have to understand this is an important legacy for our country. when you study our greatest artists, they will show us how to deal with each other and our blood lines are intertwined. it is not hyphenated america.
it is expressed in those arts. it tells us who we are. we don't have to always speak in slogans. we are related. we have had a history on that land. we have gone through struggles and survived it and come out. it is documented. tavis: how does all of this that you have been putting to the here now impact your composing. i ask you that because you're not just a great artist. more and more you're kicking out these compositions, many of them are complicated. you got notes on top of notes. your compositions are complicated and beautiful all at the same time. how is this that obviously you're wrestling with? how did that impact your composing? >> a composition is a complexity of relationships. i wrote a piece called "blood on steel" about slavery. about two characters.
i will always go back to the original -- different types of beats and rhythms and when i did the mass, i went through the whole history of the church music and the gospel music even with the anglo american mass and the spirituals and how we developed. the whole history of going through the music. jazz musicians. i tried to put our music in my music. american music. charleston, i'll put it on a bunch of different beats. i'll write down all the different devices that are americana to me. i try have an historic depth and breath in things we do in our time. i believe in putting -- i read something beethoven said in one of his sketchbooks because when
he went deaf, he said when it comes to church music, go to the original mode. go to the original manuscript of these mosde. i'm a believer of the music i experienced on these lands. the american people, the indian people, the greek people. when we have a hench we have our ethnic -- heritage, we have our ethnic identity. we also have human heritage. that's who we actually are. the point that we all have that same d.n.a. strain. tavis: to your point now about human heritage. i'm wondering, silly, though the question may sound. i always thought of music as a healing force. does music still have the poet ensy, the power, the capacity, to heal? >> it can't help it because it
is under language. just when you talk, you say it. oh, you know, i'm tone deaf. you're not tone deaf because if you were tone deaf you wouldn't speak like that. you already sang the song. we learn a language through its song. even if you don't have music, you have the people you love's voice and you'll know that song in their voice. when it comes to a song and music, people love to sing and dance and play music. nobody knows where that comes from. it is a spiritual that i think goes back the to the beginning of existence. yes, that heals us all the time tavis: last question. 35 or 40 seconds. when kids get exposed to you, they are getting what? what is the typical day? what are you teaching these kids? >> we're teaching them the history of music and the feeling of love that is in our music. teaching them it is all right to
be yourself. be yourself. and another thing is that the blues is always there. it is going to be hard on you but it is all right. it is all right. that's what the blues teaches you. you got to roll with the punches to find your equilibrium. tavis: i so enjoy talking to wynton marsalis any time, on the phone, in person or on this set. an honor to have you in town. don't stay away from l.a. so long next time. >> i love and respect you. tavis: we're doing the show live at our new studios at lincoln center. that's our show for tonight. see you back next time. until then, good night from l.a. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. ♪
>> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: hi. i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with the congressional bat on president's new budget. that's next time. we'll see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley.