Sunday, January 27, 2008

The old becomes new with Wynton Marsalis

"There is something pleasurably safe in feeling about what we call standards. They are songs that seem to say, 'No matter who or what you are, you are welcome. Come on in. Pull up a seat. Enjoy yourself.' "
-Stanley Crouch, from the liner notes to Standards & Ballads

Being an originally American creation, it's rather amazing to think how far jazz has fallen out of the popular mainstream and even conscious. In the latter half of the 20th century, jazz musicians have attempted to revive the ailing genre by transcending the borders of traditional jazz music: Afro-Cuban and Brazlian jazz in the 50's and 60's (Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente), jazz fusion in the 70's (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock), smooth jazz in the 80's (Kenny G - perhaps better left forgotten), jazz-rap, acid jazz, and nu jazz in the 90's (A Tribe Called Quest, Brand New Heavies, The Cinematic Orchestra). While bands in the latter category have enjoyed particular mainstream success, few listeners would probably couple the music with the jazz genre.

Few people are doing as much to reverse this unfortunate trend as Wynton Marsalis and his family. Indeed, I would wager their name is the most recognizable in modern day jazz to the American public in general. While there have been some very outspoken critics of Wynton, his musical abilities, and his outlook and attitudes about the history of jazz and where it should be heading, he's done much to keep the genre afloat. Wynton first hit the scene playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the 80's. From their he went on to play with Herbie Hancock and then to eventually form his own band around himself. Besides possessing an abundance of talent in jazz, he's also a noted classical music trumpeter as well.

This last week saw the release of Standards & Ballads, fourteen tracks collected from previous releases that showcase Wynton's abilities to take classic material and make it his own. There's nothing new here, so previous fans of his probably have much of this material. For those not overly familiar with Wynton, or who have not bought any of his work yet, this album serves as sort of "greatest hits" that you can listen to and enjoy. It serves especially well as some mood music with your significant other on the rapidly approaching Valentine's Day!

Wynton Marsalis - Embraceable You : Standards & Ballads

Wynton Marsalis - I Can't Get Started (with Shirley Horn) : Standards & Ballads

Visit his website, his label Legacy Recordings, and become his friend on MySpace.


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Sportin' Crowd
: At the Cafe Bohemia Vol. 2

Dizzy Gillespie and Machito - Oro, Incienso Y Mirra : Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods

Herbie Hancock - River (Feat. Corinne Bailey Rae) : River: The Joni Letters

The Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur : Sportin' Crowd


damien said...

I think I'm coming into jazz a bit late. I only RECENTLY (as in the last 3 or 4 months) started to appreciate it.

It's interesting when you realize how complicated it is. It's especially fascinating when you realize that it's pretty much ALL live instruments.

Sean said...


If you're looking for any recommendations, I'd be happy to help.