WYNTON MARSALIS: Improvisation, swing, and the blues-- if those three elements are present, it's jazz. You have a certain amount of material, you know harmony of your horn, you have a harmonic progression, you have time, you have the rhythm section playing, and you have to invent something that will be logical, make sense, fulfill the requirements of the moment, have the type of emotional impact it can have, in real time.
I was lucky when I was younger, I always had older mentors, like Dizzy Gillespie, Jerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Elvin Jones, Albert Murray, Sweet Citizen. I'll would go to their homes, I would talk to them. Now I still have a couple of my mentors, but it's important to get around younger people too.
THOMAS NYUL: Having Mr. Marsalis come and having the opportunity to play with him was one of the high points of my musical career. He's played with the greats. He knew them personally, so he brings all of that together when he plays.
WYNTON MARSALIS: This is a distinguished university. Even after the Civil War, when the different institutions were open, this institution was one of the first to allow people of color, women. Certain parts of the institution were public, so on and so forth, so there's a history of a certain type of free thought, but also the idea of this professorship in the community is here.
I love the way you were playing. I love the intensity, the intention, the way you were dedicated to playing the beat-- the little things you tried to add. One little thing was off a little bit, but you got right back on. You know what I'm talking about?
In the break, I love your attitude-- the kind of infectious way you up in there-- [VOCALIZES] I love that.
I try to expose my students to just a broader awareness of things that I've learned down through the years. And I tend to really teach people very personally.
First, I was interacting with you. Then I sort of go [VOCALIZES] and you sort of play longer. If you get in an interlocking pattern, the time of the pattern changes, then you resolve it. So I may say [VOCALIZES]-- That's the resolution.
WYNTON MARSALIS: Does that make sense?
THOMAS NYUL: He actually sat in on one of our performances and he took notes the whole time. And afterward, he had feedback for all of us.
WYNTON MARSALIS: You played that good, but I want you to have more attack.
THOMAS NYUL: He really took the time to try to develop every single player.
WYNTON MARSALIS: The bulk of what I'm trying to do is teach them about how to use your rehearsal time, how to perceive things-- transitions, forms-- what things mean in music, how to use your power to make your performing better.
THOMAS NYUL: When I was going back and forth playing with him, it wasn't really rehearsed. It was a complete improvisation over the chords. And he's such an astute listener when he plays, it's like a real dialogue. I'll play something, and he's listening to me and he plays something in response to that, not just echoing what I play, but it makes what I played better.
A lot of it felt like I was just trying to keep up, but the other part of it is it just felt fun.
One time, I missed a note and he heard it. It was like a high note, and I just totally didn't get it out. And then he like played it. He teased me a little, bit but in a fun way.
WYNTON MARSALIS: Every concert experience is great. For any of us, of any age, to get in front of people and be able to make them feel better or worse with our playing is important for us to experience and to understand how privileged we are to do that, to have that right.
THOMAS NYUL: I'm going to remember most his ability to connect with different people, the capacity to be an amazing player, but also use all that knowledge and expertise to teach us.
WYNTON MARSALIS: I always tell my older kids-- whether I like what you're doing or not is not really that important. The question is, how do you feel about it? My job is to give you some tools that you can use. And you can use those tools the way you see fit.
Because this is your time. And I want to empower you to use your time the way you want to use it. And the more it is antithetical to what I believe, the more integrity it takes for me to teach you. And I want to do that, because I would like to have integrity as a teacher.
THOMAS NYUL: We were very fortunate to have a musician of his caliber come here.
WYNTON MARSALIS: I look forward to coming back. It's been a great experience.
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Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, A.D. White Professor-at-Large, taught and mentored students on campus last semester.