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Wynton Marsalis Music is Life

April 6, 2023

Wynton Marsalis Music is Life

Gabriela Novellino

Wynton Marsalis’ Music is Life

Internationally acclaimed musician, composer and bandleader, Wynton Marsalis talks about music, his mentors and the irreplaceable role of art and creativity in American culture. Part question and answer, part meditation on life, it was all magic at IdeaFestival®  2014.

Check out some of the golden moments from this interview by clicking the image below!

Photo of Wynton Marsalis' interview

Wynton Marsalis on Community
(11:44 – 12:36)

“The jazz world is a story world, where everybody is telling stories all the time. We are a world that believes in the exponential power of coming together. While on the one hand we compete… we recognize that every other person’s potential grows exponentially when it is met with another person’s set of knowledge and abilities. No one person has the complete set. The more of us that can come together around an issue, the greater we all become. That is the art of Jazz.”

Wynton Marsalis on “what is Jazz? (12:55-14:24)

“There are three elements of jazz that have to be present. 

One is improvisation, which is the “I” part, freedom to express yourself. The second is Swing, which is the opposite of the “I”, it’s the “us”. Swing is a matter of coordination and balance. It teaches you diplomacy. Yes, you have freedom, but other people have freedom too, so how are you going to have that together? How is your freedom going to go from “yours” to “ours”? Then, the Blues aesthetics is our spiritual view, which is optimism in the face of adversity. An optimism that is not naive. This is life, bad things happen. That’s a fact of being alive. There’s no perfection. If you’re out here, you are paying dues. How do you deal with those dues? How do you use what you have to be resilient and to deepen your humanity through the tragedy and the struggle. And how can you express the depth of that humanity that is earned in a way the will uplift people? The feeling that we call soul comes out of the Blues aesthetic and it’s also an essential ingredient to our music… All three of those things must be present.”

Wynton Marsalis

The more of us that can come together around an issue, the greater we all become. That is the art of Jazz

Question from the audience (14:55):

Q:  “How do you keep creativity alive in schools when so much of what we are being asked to do takes creativity out of schools?”

A: “That is part of our battle.”

On Mastery of Form (16:08):

“As jazz musicians, our mastery is mastery of form. When we can agree on a form, we can improvise with people anywhere in the world. But when we cannot agree on a form, we are going to sound like… that word.”

A trumpet major at the Youth Performing Arts School, asks Marsalis for advice in regards to pursuing a career as a performer (24:24). Marsalis shared that when was considering pursuing a career in music, he asked his father – who was also a musician – for his advice. He said:


And that is the advice Marsalis passed on. 

Q:  “How do you get better at learning how to tell a story through your improvisation?” 

Marsalis mentions some great examples of trumpet solos:

In case you need additional reasons to check out the video, Marsalis speaks about his relationship with Miles Davis, answers a question about his creative process, and how he sees the future of music in our technological world.

On listening (50:05)

“We have to develop our ability to hear… When were we ever taught how to listen to something? Not to music, to people. Our listening skills have diminished.”


There are many more gems from this interview, so we encourage you to check it out!




What is your favorite quote? What did we miss? What do you think?


Gabriela Novellino

Gabs started dancing in 1995 at four years old and has never stopped. While spending a year abroad in Leeds, UK in 2012, she discovered the dances of the Jazz Age, fell hopelessly in love, and decided to dedicate her life to this passion. She acts as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, researcher, dj and event organizer primarily in Brazil, Chile, and other South American scenes. She specializes mainly in Lindy Hop, Authentic Jazz, 1920s’ Charleston and Collegiate Shag. During the pandemic, Gabs has reinvented herself in order to bring people together through dance in an online format, by hosting online classes, sharing interesting information on social media and organizing big events, such as América Latina Swings. She is also a huge history geek and loves to dig deeper into the roots of Jazz music and dance. As a guest in the culture, she honors the opportunity to share the legacy and culture of Black American artists who created this art form.
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