Jazz and the power of the spoken word have always enjoyed a marriage made in heaven. But it has never been done like this, not the way that Wynton Marsalis has cleverly blended the two on this current CD. The last time that Marsalis combined music with poetry it garnered success for him as "Blood on the Fields" earned a Pulitzer Prize back in 1997.
On this compilation, Wynton creates a musical tapestry following the attraction between a boy and a girl throughout the years. The way Wynton tells the story both musically and poetically, the relationship is one that enjoys a beautiful and slow build; it is never rushed. The CD cover makes for a beautiful visual bow one of a girl telling a secret to a boy. Although they look innocent, once still is curious to know what the girl could be whispering in the boy’s ear to make him smile the way he does on the CD. The answer lies when you open the CD and follow their lovely tales of love as it grows. The CD is an interesting mix of different musical styles which run the gamut of latin jazz to blues, New Orleans jazz groove to even hard bop and jazzy waltzes. "He and She" opens with a smooth-talking Wynton asking:
"What cause country bluesmen to claim
"a man and a woman is a dangerous game.
well every school boy knows one plus one equals two
and boys know less than girls do"
The bluesy sounding "School Boy’ is the first musical entrée, a delightful romp that gets its shine from the saloon-type piano run within. Wynton utilizes the mute trumpet on "The Sun and the Moon" before launching into the foot tapping "Sassy". The boy and the girl’s relationship mature as evident in "First Crush", a track that Marsalis describes as a "flowery kind of improvisation with lots of filigree in it". The playful and cute melody that is showcased in "First Kiss" is said to be an "awkward three" while the prize for most romantic of all the songs would have to go to "The First Slow Dance".
"First Time" has a Latin flavor and according to Marsalis it was written to reflect the uneasy and excited circumstances that this type of encounter usually brings. "It is very difficult to play. I wrote that to mess with (tenor saxophonist) Walter Blanding and give us something to practice on. Our bassist, Carlos Henriquez brings another type of seriousness to our playing Afro-Hispanic Music. We’re playing something specific, definite, not just some quasi-Latin groove."
The track called "Girls" is worth mentioning for it truly captures everything that a girl is: her beauty, her innocence, even naiveté.
In a recent interview, Marsalis said that although he read the poetry on the compilation the emotional thread is the voice of a woman. "On "He and She", it’s a man talking but the person who delivers the universal truth of the matter is a woman. The poem even says, "When you’re a boy you know that women know more than you do. But you forget what you know as a boy, so the whole thing is a return to what you originally knew. And that’s what the woman does, she returns to you to what we all originally know."
Marsalis is a great lover of poetry, in fact when he is on tour he always hits the road with his trumpet and book of poems. "I’ve always been a big fan of poetry even before I was in high school", Marsalis said. "I read poetry on the road to the cats in the band. And I keep a copy of William Butler Yeats’ poems with me, and for years I’ve been on the road reading them to the other cats at one or two o’ clock in the morning when everybody’s tired".
The poetry used on "He and She" did not happen overnight. As a matter of fact Wynton’s prose came together back in 2006 when the musician performed at the Marciac Jazz Festival in France. It was there that Marsalis started to draw upon the conversations that he had with women of all ages in the past to use as inspiration for his latest CD. "A good friend of mine (writer) Stanley Crouch would tease me when one of my girlfriends became impregnated. He said "one plus one equals three. I started to put all these things together. I decided I would write a poem and then have some music come out of the poem I wanted the structure of the poem to have all kinds of three in it a man, a woman and a country bluesman; and things that are metaphors for that the sun, the moon and the midnight sky."
Even musically, Wynton continues the theme of three as the song "Sassy" is in three and modulates up a half step. "In music, the interesting thing is that the closest notes physically are the further apart harmonically and that is like a man and a woman. The closest notes to a C are a C sharp or a B natural. But when you play them together they make the most dissonant sound. The spatial relationship belies the harmonic relationship. All these songs are put in unusual and difficult keys and they modulate." Marsalis admits that the most complex song on the compilation is "Razor Rim" and this complexity was intentional to reflect the complexity of a woman. Said Marsalis "I did not want to write a typical, slow ballad and say this is a song about a woman, I wanted something that had some complexity and seriousness to it".
Wynton’s Facebook Outakes
On the question about Miles Davis
I've played a lot of his songs and have met him and spoken to him many times, some times friendlier than others. He was very witty and intelligent.
On the question about his dream performance
My dream is to go on a tour of clubs all over the world and play with many of the great musicians I've met and played with like Chano Dominguez in Spain, Igor Butman in Russia, Herve Sellin and Pierre Boussaget in France.
On the question about upcoming performances
I am going to perform with my whole family at the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival in June in Washington, DC.
His views on jazz music today
We have a lot of great piano players on the scene today. There are pianists of all generations. I'll name some: Hank Jones, Dave Brubeck, Randy Weston, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, Martial Solal, Eric Reed, Danilo Perez, Mulgrew Miller, Brad Mehdalu, Frank Kimbrough, Geoff Keezer, Keith Jarrett, Ahmet Jamal, Marcus Roberts, Herbie Hancock, Terry Waldo, Cyrus Chestnut, Bill Charlap, Mark Cary, Bill Dobbins, Chic Corea, Jonathan Baptiste. I just have to stop because there are so many and I'm missing all kinds of people that I'll say, "damn, I forgot them." You have to check them out, or you might think the only thing happening is on earlier records. It's all happening right now.