Marsalis Hosts Jazzy Hurricane Benefit Concert
(Soundbite of New Orleans-style jazz music)
SCOTT SIMON, host
Among the many artifacts that have been secured in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina is the cornet that Louis Armstrong played as a young boy, the very instrument that, in his hands, changed the world. Another son of New Orleans and, in a way, a son of Louis Armstrong himself will sound his trumpet at 7 PM Eastern to save even more of the region's musical heritage. Wynton Marsalis, co-founder and director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, has organized a benefit to raise money for hurricane victims. The Higher Ground for Hurricane Relief concert will feature Terance Blanchard and Buckwheat Zydeco right along with James Taylor, Bette Midler, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Paul Simon and many, many others. The concert will also be broadcast on public radio stations around the country and on public television at 8 PM Eastern. Mr. Marsalis joins us from Lincoln Center.
Thanks very much for being here with us.
Mr. WYNTON MARSALIS (Co-founder and Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center): Why, thank you.
SIMON: Mr. Marsalis, you've said that an event like this, the hurricane, but moreover the response of human beings to hurricane relief, can remind us of our best side.
Mr. MARSALIS: Right.
SIMON: What does that mean to you, if I could get you to expand on that?
Mr. MARSALIS: It means that, at a certain point, we are all one people. We can imagine ourselves being in the position of the people who are in a tragic situation and that so many people come together to help those who are in need.
SIMON: Tourism is such an important part of New Orleans' economy, maybe year in and year out, the most reliable economic stream it has. And tourists don't often see the real city. And I wonder in your mind, is there a difference between what many tourists to New Orleans see and the New Orleans that you know that's a more substantial part of the city?
Mr. MARSALIS: Oh, definitely. Most of the times, the tourists might come and see the Garden District and look at some of the pretty houses and go to a couple of good restaurants, and then they go in the French Quarter. But New Orleans is a very complicated city with many wards and different communities, even different dialects in different communities. You know, it's a very textured and layered city.
SIMON: What's the role that music has played over the years in the life of some of the poorest citizens of New Orleans?
Mr. MARSALIS: Well, in New Orleans, the music is just a part of our way of life. You know, we play music, we dance, we sing, we have songs for different seasons, like there's a whole lot of songs that are just Mardi Gras songs. Then there are a lot of New Orleans songs, and people go to church to play hymns and stuff. And then we have parades that happen at any time, and you learn all of the songs that they play in the parades. And because we know that we have that tradition that ties us in a way to our past, like in my case, I played with the Fairview Baptist Church marching band when I was eight years old. The guy who taught us was the great Danny Barker, and he had played with Louis Armstrong. So, in a way, I'm connected to him, connected to Armstrong by way of the music, and we take great pride in that.
SIMON: But when you're growing up in New Orleans and you're a youngster, is it cooler to be on the football or basketball team or the school band?
Mr. MARSALIS: When I was growing up in New Orleans, you could go into the roughest areas of the city because when people saw that you had a horn, they would say in a New Orleans accent, `Oh, man, that's all right, bro, you got that horn, man. We can't mess with no musician, you know.' So musicians occupy a very esteemed position in the culture.
SIMON: You've been back to see the city, I guess, at least once already, haven't you?
Mr. MARSALIS: Yes.
SIMON: What are some of your concerns during this period?
Mr. MARSALIS: My first concern is that we correct the levees and also the wetlands so that we don't lose a football field of wetlands a day. I'm also concerned about that we change our education system and we start to think about all New Orleanians and their--job, health care, all the things that we all would be concerned about for our families. And then the culture comes first. We've never put a lot of money into our culture. Like, very little money's ever been spent on teaching people how to play jazz. The musicians have kept it going themselves in spite of what goes on in the city a lot of times. So I would hope that as a city, we come together and we correct a lot of our problems of prejudice, ignorance and mainly that we are led to a higher level by our culture.
SIMON: Mayor Nagin said this week that the French Quarter might be open for business soon because that's relatively dry and power is restored. Now your father, Ellis, has played at the Snug Harbor jazz club just outside the Quarter for some time. I wonder if you think he might be back soon?
Mr. MARSALIS: Oh, yeah, he'll be back. I haven't spoke with him about when he will be back. He's in North Carolina with my big brother, Branford. But my father, he's from New Orleans, you know. He'll be back. My mama is gonna wants to be back. She grew up in New Orleans, all of her family, my father, you know, he'll be back. And everybody's gonna work hard. New Orleanians--I was saying even in the beginning of this scandal, we love being what we are. I haven't lived in the city for a long time, when we see each other, it's like we love to be from New Orleans. You know, we're proud of our city and of our heritage. And this tragedy really has helped to put a lot of us in touch with it. I mean, I got so many phone calls from people all over the world who are from New Orleans, saying, `Man, what are we gonna do? You know, what can we do? I want to go back home. I want to do this, I want to do that. We're from home. We love it.'
SIMON: On our program last Saturday, your younger brother, Ellis, gave his salutation to the people of New Orleans and the surrounding area. And I wonder if you could share some words this week, speaking not to us but directly to the people from your home city and from Mississippi and the Gulf region who've been scattered around the country.
Mr. MARSALIS: My name is Wynton Marsalis, and I'd like to ask everyone who's been victimized by this tragedy to not show too much pride and let people help you. Reach out and accept the love that so many people around the world are more than willing, ready and able to share.
SIMON: Mr. Marsalis, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. MARSALIS: All right, boss. Thanks.
SIMON: Wynton Marsalis. He's the organizer of the Higher Ground for Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert and Auction at Lincoln Center. The time to get your tickets is now. The concert begins at 7 PM and will be broadcast on NPR stations across the country beginning at 8 PM Eastern.
(Soundbite of jazz music)
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.