Keith Jarrett on Wynton Marsalis

Excerpted from an article by Andrew Solomon in the New York Times Magazine, Feb. 9, 1997

"It's totally unrealistic to think that you're going to be a great player just because you know how to play fast or you know how to play 5,000 styles," he says. "I read reviews of new players who can sit in with anybody or play with five different types of band in five nights - and everybody talks about this like it's a positive thing. If you get an audience and you get gigs and you have a name before you have anything to say, it actually wipes out the possibility of saying something later on. The people who would produce valuable things are waylaid too soon. The bigger the media, the worse it is for the artist. I'm not even sure I should use the word artist. There are some ages, I think, that don't deserve art as much as others. I almost think we live in a time now when that is true."

He begins to sound like some latter-day Rousseau mourning the demise of the noble savage. "The old days of jazz were much healthier for the music itself," he says. "I think there's a horrible thing going on now, where young players haven't been told by the right people that there's more to it than marketing themselves. They expend all the energy they should be using to find their voice, or work on their voice, or listen to themselves play. They've got to resist this stuff. I was called by Columbia at one point when I was with this little ECM record label, and they offered me a giant advance. I said no. It's not just what's getting exposed, but who you're exposing it to it.

Jarrett saves his most pointed attacks on the current jazz establishment for Marsalis. "Wynton imitates other people's styles too well," he says. "You can't learn to imitate everyone else without a real deficit. I've never heard anything Wynton played sound like it meant anything at all. Wynton has no voice and no presence. His music sounds like a talented high-school trumpet player to me. He plays things really, really,really badly that you cannot screw up unless you are a bad player. I've felt embarrassed listening to him, and I'm white. Behind his humble speech, there is an incredible arrogance. And for a great black player who talks about the blues - I've never heard Wynton play the blues convincingly, and I'd challenge him to a blues standoff any time. He's jazzy the same way someone who drives a BMW is sporty."


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