Since his debut with Art Blakey in 1979, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has become not only the most famous living jazz musician but a spokesman for jazz itself. Critics have praised Marsalis' virtuoso technique, his prodigious output -- almost 40 jazz and classical releases to date -- and his dedication to preserving the legacy of jazz, demonstrated by his mentoring of young musicians, his founding of Jazz at Lincoln Center and his role as consultant and on-camera source for Ken Burns' PBS documentary Jazz.
Over the past 25 years, Marsalis has gone from "young lion" to elder statesman -- but he's also taken considerable fire for his views of what is and isn't jazz. By summarily dismissing the post-Coltrane avant-garde, all music made with electric instruments, all jazz by musicians born outside the U.S. and pretty much everything recorded after the mid-'60s, Marsalis has cast himself as a reactionary arbiter of taste in a genre usually noted for unfettered personal expression. Given his prominence among certain jazz acolytes, one might even liken him to the Pope, another charismatic leader whose authoritative pronouncements are rooted in a long-gone past.
Marsalis' band has earned a reputation as a proving ground for up-and-coming players, much as Blakey's and Miles Davis' groups were to earlier generations. But how closely do Pope Wynton's former associates cleave to his doctrines? With Marsalis performing at the Sheldon on Saturday, March 19, and bassist Christian McBride in town to play Jazz at the Bistro Wednesday through Saturday, let's look at some of the trumpeter's past cohorts using the RFT's exclusive Marsalis Apostasy Index (MAI), where "0" represents Wynton himself and "10" represents smooth-jazz panderer Kenny G:
Marcus Roberts, pianist
Connection: Member of Marsalis' band, 1985-1991
Can be heard: Enjoying a respite from touring with a six-week residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Apostasies: None. Recording jazz and classical music, Roberts has hewed to the papal line, with his interest in ragtime making him arguably even more retrograde than Marsalis.
Jeff "Tain" Watts, drummer
Connection: Member of Marsalis' band, 1980-1985
Can be heard: With the Branford Marsalis Quartet and on his own CD, Detained at the Blue Note
Apostasies: Drummed for the Tonight Show band under Branford's leadership. Has been known to play funk and reggae backbeats during jazz gigs.
Christian McBride, bassist
Connection: Mentored by Marsalis while still in high school. Commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center to write "Bluesin' in Alphabet City" and perform it with the JLC Orchestra.
Can be heard: At Jazz at the Bistro, Wednesday, March 16, through Saturday, March 19
Apostasies: Plays both electric and acoustic bass. Dedicated title track of first CD to James Brown. Worked with Sting, the Roots' ?uestlove and other pop musicians. Recorded songs by the Spinners, Earth Wind and Fire, and Stevie Wonder. Last CD, the fusion-flavored Vertical Vision, was compared to Weather Report.
Branford Marsalis, saxophonist
Connection: Brother, bandmate from 1980-1985
Can be heard: On his most recent CD, A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam, and touring with his quartet
Apostasies: Toured with Sting and jammed with Bruce Hornsby, the Dead and other pop/rock acts. Led the post-Carson Tonight Show band. Recorded jazz/hip-hop CDs with his group Buckshot LeFonque.
MAI: 8 -- Dean C. Minderman
The First Cut Is the Deepest
On picking the soundtrack to a vasectomy
Hey, ladies, want to know how to stop any argument with your man? Just get in his face and yell, "Vasectomy!" His brain will flood with horrifying images of knives in not-nice places, and he'll be unable to speak. Mission accomplished.
When Zach Smith, 28 and married, decided to get his vas deferens clipped, he was understandably nervous. His doctor suggested he wear headphones during the procedure to distract him, which Smith thought was a pretty good idea. Intrigued by the idea of picking a soundtrack for your own neutering, I called Smith a few days after the procedure to find out how the tunes went down.
B-Sides: So, how are you doing?
Zach Smith: Terrific. If you don't want kids, this is the way to go. I got a Xanax before the surgery, and it kept me cool the whole time. I haven't even needed the pain pills the doctor prescribed me.
Most men live in fear of this. It wasn't so bad?
I was dreading the whole thing: "Oh, God, my nuts are going to hurt" and all that. Nobody wants their nuts to hurt. But it hasn't been that bad: no pain, no swelling, no bleeding. You're legs are in stirrups, which is kind of embarrassing. It was kind of uncomfortable, but the Xanax really helped with that. And my doctor was smart enough to glue up the wounds. An ice pack on the nuts for a couple of hours, and I was fine.
What did you listen to?
Beck's Sea Changes.
Good choice: It's nostalgic. Why'd you pick it?
Mellow, mellow, mellow. No unexpected loud noises.
Did it help?
I was too drugged up to pay too much attention to it. I didn't have to listen to the doctor talk to the nurse, or tools moving around. I don't know what I would have been listening to as background noise if I hadn't had [headphones] on, so I don't have a point of reference. And I'm not having it done again to find out.
Was there a point in the operation when you suddenly wanted to listen to the Indigo Girls?
No. -- Jordan Harper
Aye, Aye, Aye, DIY
This St. Paddy's Day, write your own Irish tune
If a band is labeled "Irish," you pretty much know what you're in for: lyrical (often gloomy) tales set mostly in flashback. Judging by this alone, it seems that Ireland is largely devoid of sunshine and the present tense. The songs are often depressing, the genre at once whimsical and melancholy. Yet somehow Irish music comes off as ethereal and warm as coffee and whiskey. And easy to make at home! Mix and match the following to create your Irish opus. Pick all that apply.
1) The CD cover is:
b) in front of an opera house
c) the band, with instruments
d) featuring a perfunctory amount of green
e) featuring a whimsical Celtic font
2) The song takes place:
a) in the rain
b) in a pub
c) in a field
d) at twilight
e) at dawn
3) Your main instruments include:
b) tin whistle
4) You're aching for:
a) lost childhood love
b) lost childhood town
c) another pint
d) social justice
5) Words to use when you need extra ones:
c) any female's name
e) Aer Lingus
6) The chorus is:
b) encouraging people to drink more
c) easy to remember for drunk people
d) kind of sad
e) like yodeling
7) End song with:
a) a punch line
b) a guy reaching peace with himself and his past
c) a guy ordering another pint, saying, "To hell with it"
d) more yodeling
e) applause (live version only) -- Kristie McClanahan