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How Automobiles Work


Wynton Marsalis is a New Orleans native and a Renaissance man. He’s probably known as one of the world’s greatest trumpet players. He’s also a world-class composer, educator, author, and leading advocate of American culture. He also happens to be one of my very good friends. He is the co-founder and current Managing & Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Wynton this summer and we had a great conversation about how transportation has impacted his life and inspired his music. I want to start out by clarifying something. Is your name Wynton Marsalis or Winston Marsalis? (laughs) Ha ha! It’s Wynton. Don’t call me Winston or Quentin or Winfred. I hear it all the time. Okay. As I’ve talked to you over the years I’ve heard you talk a lot about the different sounds in music and where they come from. How would transportation, or for example, a train sound in music if somebody who wasn’t as practices you would hear it? Whenever you hear the blues you hear a train like an example is a blue shuffle. [PLAYS PIANO] Now, here’s that train whistle [PLAYS HIGH NOTES MIMICKING TRAIN WHISTLE] That’s like a kind of typical, classic train shuffle. My music is full of those types of trains. I always loved the train. My mama would tell the story when we were growing up my brother said, “The train goes ‘woo-woo!’ ” And I said, “No, no the train goes ‘canunk-canunk, canunk-canunk.’ ” So, even with that you have the incantation – the song “woo-woo” And the dance – the percussion “canunk-canunk.” I want to turn to your music a little bit here. You’ve had a couple of pieces that I think are directly relevant to transportation, including Big Train. Then in one of your more recent recordings you’re getting back to the Glory Train. Can you talk a little bit about the influence of transportation on music? Sure. Well, I grew up in the south. Kenner, Louisiana – behind the second set of railroad tracks. So, I grew up between the railroad track and the Mississippi River. And we always heard the train. And the train has a mythic significance in Afro-American and American mythology. We have, of course, the literal train. Took people from the south to the north, represents freedom. Then you have the metaphorical train like the Underground Railroad. It’s not really a railroad, but it’s a metaphor. It means also, freedom. And then we have the Glory Train, which is the spiritual train. So, as a jazz musician we always have trains. A lot of trains in American vernacular music. And it comes from those things. Growing up in Kenner, Louisiana what were your earliest memories or thoughts? Did you even think about transportation? Did you feel lines of separation because of where you grew up? Yeah, I grew up in segregation, so I definitely felt that. You know, our streets looked a certain way, man. We had ditches in our street, black asphalt; when you get to the white streets it all be white pavement. Everything done to reinforce inferiority. But actually my first memories of transportation came from my great aunt and uncle, and it was in New Orleans. The last remaining streetcar line at that time was the St. Charles streetcar. And I remember my uncle would always take me on what we call a “ride around the loop.” And it’d be just me and him, man. And he would stop at K&B department store to get me a chocolate malt. [LAUGHS] I can never forget. You remember that malt! I remember that malt, boy! And I mean, that’s something how something you don’t think about that much, but even at this age I always reflect on that streetcar ride. As I think about some of the work we do, we have freeways that were built pre-civil rights plowed through African-American communities, low-income communities. How can we bring the country together through transportation? What advice to you have for me? I think access. Transportation access for everybody. And hubs that they have to interact in. The subway in New York is integrated. Everybody’s down there, man. I took the subway here today. I’m a believer in public transportation. You know, what makes people integrate is when they have access to each other. And I feel like transportation gives us a great opportunity to come closer together. And either we want to or we don’t. It’s up to us. Wynton Marsalis, thank you. It’s great to be with you. It’s such a pleasure. Deepest love and respect for you, always. Same here. Same here, my brother.

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