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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Bebopping and scatting through an interview

Wynton Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will bring their United in Swing tour to the Madison Civic Center this evening. The LCJO has been widely recognized as one of the finest jazz bands in the country, and its director, Marsalis, became the first jazz musician to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his \Blood on the Fields"" oratorio in 1997. The Daily Cardinal had a chance to interview a member of the LCJO, alto saxophonist Ted Nash, about the LCJO's brand of jazz and his thoughts on his experiences as a musician. 




What kind of music can listeners expect to hear from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra? 




What we do have in our book is I think quite a cross-section of stuff that's historic and also things that are brand new, so someone who comes out to a concert is going to expect to hear something that maybe does have some history some historic value in big band jazz, but also they're going to hear our brand new arrangements and brand new compositions. Basically, Wynton has always been very encouraging of us in the band to go ahead and create music for the band because who knows the band better than the members who are currently playing in the band.  




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So right now on this tour we're featuring new compositions by Wynton. He did a suite dedicated to a festival in Vittoria, Spain that we've just started playing and it's beautiful music. We're also focusing a lot on music of a couple of great composers that we're going to be featuring in our concerts. ... So right now we're dealing with the music of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane.  




On the concert in Madison, I think we're going to be playing a lot of Mingus' music. ... It's interesting because, I don't know maybe it's my perception but I think a lot of people have been forgetting about Charles Mingus...You don't hear a lot of people playing Mingus music because it's so personal. It was so personal to Charles Mingus and his band that I think a lot people don't want to play it because they're not sure how to really represent Charles Mingus when they play his music, so it's something that's quite a thing to do and to experience. ... Just to play his music it reminds me in general of how much music there is to deal with out there and how to step up the level of creativity when you're dealing with your own music. 




Is that why you continue doing other people's music? 




I think we do other people's music because there's a lot of great music to play and I think a lot of people like to hear that. And we do play for large audiences of people who do have sort of a base, their taste is based in a tradition of big band music so we do like to play a lot of Duke and a lot of things that will make people feel good when they listen to it. But it also does remind us of how deep some of these composers are and inspires us a lot. 




What do you listen for in jazz music? 




It's hard for me to listen to music that I like as a background. I think a lot of people think of jazz as background music these days. It's encouraging and discouraging at the same time. ... For me, I listen for somebody doing something that's coming from within themselves, whether it's in the composition or just in the improvisation or in the interpretation of someone else's composition. What really makes me feel good is to hear somebody that's truly involved in whatever it is they're doing. 




I don't like to listen to people who are just playing the vocabulary without any sort of personal interpretation of it. There's a lot of musicians out there today who just seem to be satisfied to play the vocabulary and be satisfied to just kind of play the way that everybody else played before them. 




I think what's happening now is that a lot of people who are realizing we need to really find what it is that we're fearing, we're feeling and maybe that's because we're influenced by other cultures, by other people, by whatever and just our own experience of life. ... I'm a little concerned about people's perception of what jazz is and that that perception may be that it's just this very sort of perfunctory interpretation. ... I have to say that I was guilty of that. 




In fact, years ago I was satisfied in doing that same thing that I'm talking about. I think sometimes that comes out of maturity and sometimes people get it when they're younger; for me it took a little longer and suddenly in the last five years, I would say that I've really understood and discovered my own contribution to the music and just starting out fresh in a way to kind of embrace all those things that I'm hearing and it's exciting. ... I'm hoping that with that sort of energy I can bring something to this orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, by starting to bring in music that does that as well, hopefully.  




How did you come to be a part of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra? 




I used to work with Marcus Roberts, the pianist, who used to work with Wynton, and Marcus Printup, Ron Westray. I met a lot of these musicians originally through my association with Marcus Roberts. ... One of the recordings that we did was ... a CD that we did for Sony Classical called Portraits in Blue ... and basically Marcus Roberts only knew me really as a clarinet player. He wanted a clarinet voice in the sound of his band, so that was what I was doing, and so Wynton came down in one of the recording sessions ... and I had that big solo in ""Rhapsody in Blue"" and Wynton was like 'who's that?' and it's funny because we had both been in New York for so many years together and while he had a real high stature, had become very famous and me, I was sort of a quintessential sideman doing different bands. 




I had never really crossed paths with Wynton until then, so he liked what he heard and he invited me to play some gigs with him and his own band and then a few years later the chair that I play now, the alto sax chair, became available and he asked me to join. That was probably about four years ago. 




How did you get into being a professional musician, rather than just playing as a hobby? 




It's funny because my father and my uncle are both professional musicians, studio jazz musicians. So I was exposed to it very early and my mother was a singer and their parents were all musicians. ... So I never even questioned it, it was never like I had to make a choice, am I going to step this up from being a hobby, and just something I enjoy, to being a profession. No, I think from the age of 13 I think I always understood this was what I was going to do.

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