TheGrio’s 100: Wynton Marsalis, a jazz legend plays on

TheGrio's 100 - Everyone knows that Wynton Marsalis lives and breathes by his trumpet...

Everyone knows that Wynton Marsalis lives and breathes by his trumpet. This is a man who has accomplished a lot with his instument and love of music. His name usually appears next to other jazz greats like Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy.

Of course, Marsalis grew up around the greats, like the famed bandleader Al Hirt, who gave him his first trumpet when he was a child.

Growing up in New Orleans not only gave the young Marsalis a chance to fine-tune his trumpeting skills, but to also see music as activists in action.

“I always liked to hang at the gigs and listen to [musicians] play and see what was going on,” said Marsalis on his website. “Also, for that whole generation of Southern musicians – like my father, like Alvin Batiste – playing the music was a stab against segregation.

It was a matter of their identity, of their high-minded nature and of them as men. In their own way, it was a sign of protest against the environment they grew up in.”

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Marsalis’ career as a world-renowned trumpeter has informed him about the importance of preserving music. As the co-founder and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and composer to many television, theater and film productions, Marsalis has received much praise, but also criticism for his desire to maintain the traditional form of jazz.

After winning nine Grammys, the first Pulitzer Prize for Jazz, and accolades for his humanitarian efforts for recovery in post-Katrina New Orleans and human rights violations against Burma activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Marsalis is not only considered a legend in modern music, but a giant in philanthropy and activism.

In his book, To a Young Jazz Musician, he gives advise to Anthony, a young jazz student, who would like to follow in his footstep.

“Whether you are a grizzled veteran like me, or a nineteen-year-old like you, or in high school like those kids back in Maine, as jazz musicians we’re engaged in the same thing – grown folks’ business,” Marsalis says to Anthony. “So, treat it seriously, man. ‘Cause it damn sure will treat you seriously.”