f jazz is a living art form, it is due in no small part to the leadership of Wynton Marsalis, who has gone, in what seems like the blink of an eye, from being the hot young gun of jazz to being its elder statesman. There is no one on the scene today who can do what Marsalis does with his trumpet, but musical ability is only part of his talent. A visionary, he has become an articulate voice on behalf of music education in America's schools.
Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life is not your typical music book. It contains almost no history, offers few facts and boasts only six photographs. Rather, it is a slice of life from the road adventures of Marsalis and his band. Stylistically, the book is innovative. Co-author Carl Vigeland supplies the eyes and ears, while Marsalis offers the heart and soul.
Marsalis' remarks, which appear in italics, are presented in a stream of consciousness style similar to the way he plays his horn. Vigeland's role is the same as the rhythm section in Marsalis' band to provide a rhythmical framework to which the soloist can return after a virtuoso outing.
Marsalis has a great deal to say in this book, but he is never more interesting than when writing about his instrument. "The trumpet can tell when you're afraid of it," he writes. "That's why it's best to approach your horn with seriousness whenever it comes out of the case."Sometimes Marsalis' actions are more eloquent than his words. Once, while speaking to a group of students, a skeptical woman standing at the side of the room asked him if there was really such a thing as a love song. Stunned at first, Marsalis thought a moment, then brought his horn to his lips and played Gershwin's Embraceable You. At the end of the song, the woman nodded, questioned answered.
I cannot imagine a jazz fan who will not enjoy this narrative, but I suspect the book will find an even broader audience among those who read for pleasure and, as Marsalis himself would say when he's in the groove, "that's cool!"James L. Dickerson is the author of an upcoming biography of jazz legend Lil Hardin Armstrong.