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Biofile: Wynton Marsalis Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: American trumpeter, composer, teacher and artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC. Nine-time Grammy Award-winning jazz performer.

DOB: October 18, 1961 In: New Orleans, LA

Hobbies/Interests: “Play basketball. I like to read. I like to play chess.”

Favorite Movies: “[Pause]…see, it’s so many. Let me see if I can…any Hitchcock. Elie Kazan’s. John Ford. [Pause]…favorite movies…there’s so many good ones…I can’t remember the name. It has Andy Griffith in it. He plays like a man of the people that becomes corrupted. [Marsalis calls a friend on phone for the name of movie]… A Face In The Crowd [1957].”

Favorite TV Shows: “Never looked at TV like that…Monday Night Football [laughs].”

First Job: “Cuttin’ grass (age 8).”

First Car: “Volvo.”

Early Performing Memory: “I remember big dances, we used to play at New Orleans, a department store called Gaylord’s, had open space at the top. Four bands set up, we’d play around the clock. Packed with people. Finest women in New Orleans. I was in high school—13 or 14.”

Favorite Meal: “Gumbo.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Grape Nut Flakes.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Strawberry.”

Pre-Performance Feeling: “Very natural. Just like I’m talking to you.”

Greatest Career Moment: “No. It’s no moment. I’ve had so many. No moments, man, many great moments. Many.”

Most Painful Moment: “I’ve had many of them too [laughs]. Most painful moment…I’d say several of the most painful moments was somebody I was close to died before I talked to them. That happened to me two or three times.”
Last Book Read: “It’s a book on King Leopold. About his conquest of the Belgian Congo. Into The Heart of Darkness.” [Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness (Three Rivers Press, 2001), by Jeffrey Tayler]

Song(s) or Album(s) Most Proud Of: “I think everything. I’m very serious about whatever I do. So I don’t know. Some stuff comes out better than other stuff but I work hard on all of it.”

Performance You Were At Your Very Best: “No. I never know.”

Childhood Dream: “To be either a chemist or a basketball player.”

Favorite Vacation Spot: “I never go on vacation.”

Musical Tastes: “I like Beethoven. I like Bach. I like Duke Ellington.”

Favorite Live Performers: “Marcus Roberts—a great pianist from Florida. Many great jazz musicians like Hank Jones—phenomenal. A lot like that, a lot of people.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “Integrity. Humor. Empathy for other people. Originality— like don’t really give a **** what other people think. But with empathy too.”

Career Accomplishments: At 14 was invited to perform with the New Orleans Philharmonic; Attended Julliard School of Music; Toured with Herbie Hancock throughout USA and Japan; Has performed with Sarah VaughanDizzy GillespieHarry EdisonClark TerrySonny Rollins, Has sold nearly 5,000,000 copies of his recordings worldwide, Nine-time Grammy Award-winner. Won Pulitzer Prize for music.

(Note: This Biofile was done at the Miguel Cotto vs. Zab Judah welterweight world title fight at Madison Square Garden in 2007. Wynton was in the press room cafeteria and kindly agreed to do this interview.)

Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton play Layla

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