After doing the Carnival cornet album with “Moto Perpetuo” on it in 1987, Wynton must have decided to record a jazz equlivent. This is “Cherokee” with only Wynton doing the solo. Six and a half straight minutes of playing and improvising at a fast tempo, two, or three years after the Carnival album. Instead of reading fast sixteenth notes for almost five minutes, why not create your own composition while you play? It makes it a different challenge. Add the creative element to the mix, and you get jazz.
In the liner notes of this boxed set of CDs, Wynton says he thinks this is some of his best playing. The speed at which the creative ideas are coming out of his head is alarming to me. There’s not enough time to think and execute at this speed–it has to be an automatic system working that I have heard other great jazz players talk about.
No time to think, just let it go and watch what comes out. Most of us, including me, have no idea of what that feels like. It also has to make sense within the chord changes, and be more than just random notes coming out. This performance is trumpet at a level the jazz world has never heard before.
I think Wynton is constantly looking for new challenges, and trying to make a statement. He is making the case that he is the best all-around trumpet player ever. Until a great classical trumpet player puts out a recording like this, he has a good case.
This was my aha moment–the moment I knew Wynton Marsalis was a musical genius walking among us. This piece was written by Niccolo Paganini for violin and transcribed for trumpet. Wynton recorded this in 1987 with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and I first bought the record, then the cd years later.
Rafael Mendez and Sergei Nakariakov have recorded the same piece, and I have heard their version, too. They can be found on YouTube. They double tongue the whole thing, while Wynton slurs everything.
The piece is impossible to play for normal humans. First, you have to play four and a half minutes straight, which can potentially damage the lip. I have heard that Wynton has had two lip surgeries, and this piece would be why. The lip is a muscle, and cutting off blood flow that long to a muscle can cause damage. Imagine the hours of practice runs before the recording!
Next problem for normal humans— you have to learn to circular breath because there is no place for a rest to get air. It gives you one more thing to think about other than the notes that are flying by. Keeping the pitch right is also compromised when circular breathing.
The last problem may be the hardest. You have to have intense concentration for four and a half minutes. What kind of mind does it take to do that? Genius level, in my book.
So, that briefly describes the problems for a classically trained trumpet player to over come in order to play this piece. I’m thinking it could take years to master, and quite a few recording sessions to get it just right.
That’s where my theory that maybe it is possible for a great classical player to play this piece falls apart when I listen to this recording. Wynton is one of the great jazz masters, and has spent the majority of his life listening to and playing jazz compositions. To record this, he took a few months off from his jazz schedule, worked this up, recorded it live, and went back into jazz clubs. Rafael and Sergei never spent little, if any, time listening to, or playing jazz. If they did, it wasn’t at a high level. Wynton lived in both worlds!
Here’s what I came up with on Wynton. There aren’t enough hours in a day to learn both styles of music. As a jazz player, he would have had to practice twice as much as everyone else to do both, and the physical requirements to do that are impossible. Most jazz and classical musicians spend all day doing just one style. His lip would have been shot all the time to that much practice. Even if he could do it, there’s no guarantee he could mentally play this piece.
He is a musical genius. There’s no other explanation as to how he worked this piece up so fast while working as a full time jazz musician. Then, to play it so well is another miracle. One small mistake and you have to go back to the beginning of this piece. There is no place to edit.
There is no other jazz player who ever lived who could have done this as well. Maybe Harry James, but we’ll never know. He never took the time to try like Wynton did. The first time I ever met Wynton, I thanked him for doing this album. Not because it was a great album, but for what it did for jazz. Jazz musicians could no longer be looked down upon by classical musicians. Not until a great classical trumpet player comes out with a great jazz album. It hasn’t happened, yet, and I doubt it ever will.
My good friend I met in 1974, Leonard Belota, taught me a lot about jazz playing. He was a jazz historian, trumpet player, private teacher, music store expert, and a good salesman when needed, as when he sold suits at J.C. Penney. Our minds thought as one, although on opposite ends of the spectrum. He was always making me appreciate things I needed to appreciate as a jazz musician. He and I almost agreed on one thing, however, and that was that Wynton Marsalis was the best trumpet player in the history of music. To him, Miles Davis was THE ONLY genius to achieve that rank on trumpet, and I thought Wynton filled that role. We may both be right. Miles was the genius innovator, and Wynton is the best mind to ever play the instrument. Leonard died last year, and his widow (Betsy) gave me these tapes for the museum a few weeks ago. I have been transferring them to cd from cassette tapes as I get time. The swimming pool has been calling my name lately!
Leonard met Wynton when he moved to New York in the early 80s, and began working at Giardinelli’s, the top brass store in town. Leonard would go hear Wynton play at night every chance he got, and Wynton would come in the store and visit. Wynton saw in Leonard what most of us saw–a highly evolved soul who you could trust as a true friend. A really good guy. Leonard always had Wynton’s phone number if he needed it, and Wynton loved to see Leonard when he was in town. The guys from New York always called him Lenny, for some reason.
Leonard knew early on that Wynton would go on to be one of the greatest musicians of all time, genius always shows up early in life. That’s why Leonard thought it was important to record a young Wynton whenever possible, at the same time I was recording Doc Severinsen. The great ones need to have a microphone in front of them every time they play a note. That was our philosophy.
This tape is Wynton playing at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth in August of 1988. Wynton was 26 years old, playing “Cherokee”, the Ray Nobel jazz standard from 1938, only you won’t recognize it because Wynton had a pattern of never actually playing the melody on this piece. For jazz fans, he doesn’t need to–they listen to the chord changes in music mostly. For the mainstream public, the chord changes are never heard, so they would not recognize the tune.
Wynton plays a pretty fast tempo, and keeps going for a bit. There are two problems with that, if it’s me playing, not to mention endurance. One, is that you have to improvise really fast and create lines that I have trouble listening to that speed, much less improvising. Second, is that you always have to know where you are in the structure of the piece, which is 64 bars long and AABA. The three A sections in a row can get you lost real fast while you are improvising. It can turn you around very easily. One more thing, the B section is in an ungodly key that will stop you in your tracks. It throws most amateur jazz players like me under the bus. I was simply a lead and section player, not a great jazz player. See if you can hear the bridge when it rolls around. That’s the only guidepost I found.
Finally, I believe the great Marcus Roberts is on piano. He was with Wynton during those years, and although blind, plays like one of the best. When listening to his solo, I have no idea, at times, where he is in the piece of music. He even plays with the time. These guys make me feel really dumb when I hear them play such intricate passages. It’s nice to know they are some of the best ever.
If you ever hear anyone say jazz is a simple music, have them play this piece at this tempo and see how they sound. Jazz is a very intellectual art form that has been misunderstood for years, mainly by people thinking you need a college degree to play difficult music. Just because Wynton only had one year of college at Julliard means nothing. He is one of the greatest musicians ever and it’s great that Leonard knew this and thought to record him at an early age. Thank you Leonard! You continue to teach us all, even though you aren’t here anymore. These tapes have been in a box for 27 years, and Wynton is now 53. Enjoy this rare tape from my friend.
Here is the original “Ole” on Maynard ’63. He completely stopped playing this song in 1970 when MF Horn 1 came out in 1970. Notice the Conn Connstellation trumpet he always played in the early 80’s on the cover. My dad got me a used one I played in high school. They played very easy in the high register, but not this easy!
It was in 1970 that Maynard changed his equipment and direction in music. In fact, by the late 60’s the big bands were dying and Maynard was going to have to shut down his big jazz band. He signed a deal with Columbia to start playing music the younger generation liked and was new, rock music. Most rock music didn’t incorporate much soft music, so Maynard’s beautiful, soft high and low playing basically disappeared. It was all loud and louder from then on, with a larger bore horn that would help him do that. It worked and the band survived, but Maynard had to reinvent himself and the band. The jazz critics hated it, but the younger generation loved it.
Maynard has said that the music he put out in the early 60’s on the Roulette label was his best playing. The hardest thing to do on a trumpet is to play soft with control, and Maynard could do it in any register, as this piece shows. Most high note trumpet players don’t have a very good low register because playing high every day tends to tighten up the lip muscles too much. Wille Maiden, the great music writer and sax player on the albums of this era, once said that Maynard was the greatest low note player of all time because he could play so high! On this piece, Maynard puts on a clinic on what is possible on the trumpet.
From that same Oklahoma City concert in 1963, this is “Ole”. This was the last tune of the night, after a hard two hour concert. Can you imaging doing these tunes night after night?