Delfeayo Marsalis performs "What a Wonderful World" at the closing event of the International Trombone Festival 2005 New Orleans. Cameras & Audio: Daniel Vicente, Rey David Cortes. Editing: Rey David Cortes.
Why do you think understanding the role of the arts is important to understanding the history and culture across the African Diaspora?
Society leaves buildings, words, and art. That’s how we learn and study culture. The problem with words is that its subjective more than art which is more of an objective overview.
Why is art objective?
There is definitely subjectivity. John Brown’s Body. Steven Vincent Benee - He accurately depicted, in a poetic sense what occurred. John Brown, crazy White man, abolitionist, he would go on plantations and slaughter plantation owners. He came up with the idea that he would raid an armory in VA. (Despite warnings) He raided the armory anyway, intending to take the weapons, ignite the slaves and wage war on the U.S. The word is that the slaves turned him in. The brother that was with him said the slaves didn’t turn him in. John Brown himself started to feel sympathetic to the White opposition and they (Whites) did him in.
We don’t know what really happened. Any art that depicts , throughout the various period, tells you what the thoughts are of that time period, how - on a very basic level, people are thinking about their situation. You can take something like Jazz, which is very abstract, and have a very different view of how they see America. When I’m around folks who listen to popular music, they are almost always listening to ratchet. When then, do they listen to music that will put them in a place of thought?
As a jazz artist, I think it’s about getting beyond what is accessible and easy. With jazz, its difficult to stay relevant because of the ascendency of rap and hip hop, there’s no real jazz. Even Kenny G was in the top somethings. Its difficult if you’re not singing. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday - Greatest. Christian Scott - Version of Jazz. The way we determine if someone is really playing jazz is by the 8th note, 2 notes per beat. Based on how he phrases his 8th note. Masego is more Jazz based, he borrows from the styles of Kenny G, Grover Washington The way that Masego is playing his 8th notes on the beat. I was in the studio with NWA a while back, 92-93 - Ice Cube is working across the hall from us. Ice Cube comes in and he says damn yall doing the real jazz and I’m like yea! That much is not negotiable.
Why he uses the term Negro
I know actual Africans. We have no real connection to Africans other than our ancestors, like White folks whose people are from Italy - they descend but they are not of - they are White. I had an African teacher, Omra Watta, He gave me ten sheets stapled together. On those sheets were the names of books. Read all this, he said. And then you can begin to understand what it means to be African. We pimp Africa for our own credibility.
What is the best way to expose students educationally to the role of the arts as it relates to the African Diaspora?
Introduce them to it, SHOW them what it is. Explain its importance. Negroes, due to how we’ve had to live for so many years, are in a state where everything has to have use to us in a practical sense. Jazz is a commodity - From an intellectual pursuit, Jazz, created by the negros, represents the times. Jazz at its best represents democracy - where the individual shines, but the collective is represented. The negroes were excluded from the democratic process, but created a democratic process for themselves where they could be heard. Jazz is the greatest accomplishment of our people. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mozart, Beethoven - Their art illuminated something that is important about the human spirit. For the Diaspora, Charlie Parker is that source.
What would you like scholars to focus on more to enhance students’ knowledge about understanding the role of the arts in communication and community uplift across the African Diaspora?
They should create a syllabus that includes great arts in various areas. They should provide the Essentials: A list of individuals - Duke Ellington - Piano, Louis Armstrong - trumpet and from there... W.E.B. Dubois was a writer, political activist. What were they writing? What were the musicians playing? They illuminate something important and personal about the human soul.
Play for your students Louis Armstrong - 1940s - Hot Fives (5 musicians) and Hot 7’s - 40’s - Thelonious Monk. In 2005 I went to an all girls high school, I played Louis Armstrong’s high 5’s and asked how it compared to music they listened to today. One of the girls said this music sounds more produced, seems like they thought it out more in advance. The music of today doesn’t happen in the moment. The great thing about Jazz is, it happens in the moment but you have to prepare.
Why do scholarship and the arts go hand and hand?
The arts require many elements - It requires technique, emotional consciousness, intellectual pursuit, and an understanding of humanity. We have to get around the opposition to things unknown. We as a people need to overcome this. The practicality mindset of Black Folk - What am I gonna do with this? Respecting and appreciating the art of the different cultures, within and outside of them, globally.
What do you like most about the ADC in partnering so intimately with the arts?
We are able to learn most about ourselves through the arts or with our engagement with the arts. The arts touches on many different aspects of our existence. The intellect, the emotion, and the connectivity.