Source: Scott Wintrow/Getty Images
Wynton Marsalis in NYC last October.
Jazz music entered my life in three phases. That sound accompanies one of the earliest memories of time spent with my father when I was a little girl. He was an avid listener of jazz, and I used to listen to his records from his lap. I was too young to understand what was happening musically, but the sound of those instruments, of Nancy Wilson's voice, let me know that when I walked in, I was entering into a sacred space. It was my special time with my dad, a time to be still and to take it all in. Jazz taught me how to stay in the moment.
Billie Holiday crooned her way into my life when I was around 20. My sister bought me my first Billie Holiday record (actually it was a cassette) for Christmas instead of the latest LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee albums I had specifically requested. The first time I heard Billie's voice, I was appalled. What was wrong with her? I played it in my college dorm for my friends. Lord, she must be drunk, they all said. But I kept listening. And one day Billie clicked for me. There's genius in the way she can make a standard sound brand new, and every flirty word or pain-filled phrase has her soul wrapped around it. Jazz taught me how to feel.
Jazz be-bopped into my life again in my mid-twenties. I had the lofty ambition of becoming a swinging bass player, all the while struggling through jazz theory and trying to play through the "changes." It's no easy feat. But somewhere in my frustration, I realized how intellectually sophisticated jazz is, and how its pureness can transport and transform you. Just put on Miles' Kind of Blue or Coltrane's A Love Supreme and you'll see what I mean. Jazz taught me reverence.
In his new book, Moving to Higher Ground, Wynton Marsalis says jazz can change your life and engage you in the world through its ideas, concepts, history and humanity. I believe that. Through jazz, it is possible to see the world from a higher ground.