I’ve been fortunate in my life to rub shoulders with some of the finest musicians on the planet. Last night was no exception. Thanks to the generosity of the La Jolla Music Society, my students from the School of Creative and Performing Arts and I were treated to a concert featuring the Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling. As was to be expected, the concert was spectacular.
After the show, Branford invited us back to the green room where he took questions from the students. One asked, “What do you recommend for aspiring young Jazz artists.” His answer, which I had heard from other prominent teachers before, was concise and poignant: “All the information you need is on the recordings. Seriously. ALL the information you need is on the recordings.”
As he began to unravel this mysterious proclamation, his explanation weaved through a tapestry of aural development, brain mapping and encoding. He discussed the significance of his intentional listening as a kid and suggested that we as students take any record from 1935-1945 and learn everything on the record – every solo, every bass line, every drum riff.
“When I was on the road with Blakey, he asked me, ‘What are you trying to do?'” Branford responded, “I’m trying to learn how to play like ‘Trane.” Branford explained that he was learning John Coltrane solos to develop his harmonic concept, etc. Interestingly, Blakey responded, “You aren’t going to learn to play like ‘Trane by playing his solos. You have to listen to what ‘Trane listened to. Do you think ‘Trane was listening to recordings of himself in the future?”
Jazz music represents a continuum of creative development, one which was birthed in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century. Through this conversation, I was reminded again of one of my first exposures to live Jazz, which happened to feature the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Branford’s younger brother, Wynton Marsalis. The title of the JLCO tour that year was ALL JAZZ IS MODERN. I think I’m finally beginning to understand what this means.