Wynton Marsalis Moves Jazz To 'Higher Ground' Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis says that music is the "art of the invisible" — it is memory, intention and imagination. Marsalis explains his relationship to jazz in his new book, Moving to Higher Ground, and talks about how music changed his life.
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Wynton Marsalis Moves Jazz To 'Higher Ground'

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Wynton Marsalis grew up with jazz in his blood. His father, Ellis Marselis, Jr. is one of the premier pianists in modern jazz, and musicians were always around the house talking in a language of their own about gigs and rifts about who swung and who didn't. Over time and with study, that little boy learned how to listen and eventually how to play. Dozens of recordings and nine Grammy's later, Marsalis became the first jazz composer to win a Pulitzer Prize in music. But he never forgot how hard it can be even for the son of a jazz musician to understand America's great art form. The terminology and what it means, what makes the great ones great and why the blues is a common language for musicians of all styles and ages no matter where they're from. Jazz is universal, he argues, and rewards study. Great musicians, he write, demonstrate a mutual respect and trust on the bandstand that can alter your outlook on the world and enrich every aspect of your life. We'll talk with Wynton Marsalis in just a moment.

Later in the program, we'll find out more about what Hurricane Gustav visited upon areas outside of New Orleans, and your letters. But first, we want to hear from those of you who find jazz forbidding or inaccessible. Are there terms or musicians or styles you don't understand? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Wynton Marsalis' new book is called "Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life." He joins us now from our bureau in New York and nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. WYNTON MARSALIS (Jazz Musician; Author, "Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life"): All right, it's always a pleasure.

CONAN: And we'll talk about your book in just a minute but the title could apply to the evacuations that took place over the weekend on the Gulf Coast. Many are breathing a sigh of relief today but it must have, well, deja vu all over again.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. Well, we all in New Orleans, all the New Orleanians everywhere, we just - we're sorry for the people who suffered through the storm but we're glad that our city didn't - we don't know if we could have survived another hit.

CONAN: Yeah. It would have been very difficult.

Mr. MARSALIS: Yeah. Well, that was a close call, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Of course, New Orleans is the city that gave birth to jazz and it must have given birth to that age-old question and answer: What does swing mean? Well, if you have to ask, you'll never know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. That's the kind of stuff that we have to fight, that would try to like lived on right now.

CONAN: It makes it difficult to explain to people who find jazz, well, you know, a concert form that they don't really understand.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. It's our principal artform so it's important for us to take great pains to give people all the tools they need to figure out how to enjoy it. I make the argument all the time that even a football game has three analysts, three different people who would discuss the game from different perspectives. And it's important for us to take our artform seriously enough to give everyone the tools they need to enjoy, because when you learn a few basic things, you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the music and a lot of information, knowledge, a great feeling, outlook on life, so many different things.

CONAN: I'm sure, it just flashed into the minds of many, the great PDQ Bach moment, Peter Schickele's concert cast to where, Oh, that was a beautiful solo. But, I'm sure that's not what you're talking about. I wanted to point out in your book, you give us into that question, you know, what swings and what doesn't You gave us some unusual examples of tunes that swing. For example, "Frere Jacques" and the "Mickey Mouse Club March."

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. The Mickey Mouse - "Frere Jacques" is just to show what the bass does, dong dong ding dong dong dong ding dong, playing on every note. "The Mickey Mouse Club March," ti ti ti ti ti ti, that's a rhythm called the shuffle rhythm, ding ding ding ding ding ding, it's like the Washington Post March. And swinging is a combination of those two things, the bass one, pong pong pong pong pong and the cymbal one, ding ding ding ding ding. So when you put those two rhythms together, you have the swing rhythm.

CONAN: And you argue that well, in fact, that for many years now, the drums and the bass have been arguing with each other.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. The drums are the loudest instrument and the bass are the softest instrument. The cymbal of the drums is the highest pitch on the band stand and the low bass notes are the lowest pitch. For something to swing, the opposites have to be reconciled, so the loudest instrument is forced to come down to the volume of the softest and the highest pitch plays on every beat with the lowest pitch so they form like two pieces of bread on a sandwich, and the swing is everything that goes on between those two - the high and low frequency.

CONAN: And the idea of self-sacrifice and altruism, this is embodied in the very idea of jazz.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. Because the first teaching of jazz is that you have an individual sound, or voice, or personality that you place above all else. The 'me,' the 'I am,' and you find things that you can do that no one else in the world can do so people do so people can identify your sound and identify your emotion and your feeling. Now the second part is that you recognize that other people on the bandstand have that same thing and you figure out how to find where they are in the time, how to communicate and connect with their ideas, how to listen to their improvisations while you create your own, how to not - you have a lot of choice. So a lot of the choices you will make will be great for you and bad for other people. So the music teaches you to enjoy your choice but to temper your choices with knowledge that other people are participating.

CONAN: These are just some of the things that Wynton Marsalis explains in his new book, "Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life." We'd like to hear today from those of you who do find jazz hard to understand, the terminology obtuse. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org, and you can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Asher, Asher with us from Reno in Nevada.

ASHER (Caller): Hi, Wynton and Neal. I'm a classical pianist, amateur, and like a fanatic about it. And I try to access jazz, I've taken like a survey of jazz class, of jazz in my college in my local university. But I've never really been able to, like, access it. I mean, I like all genres, the classical music, but maybe not 12 tones that much. But I'd like to know what avenue maybe I could take. I mean, there's a few things, like I "St. Thomas" and maybe "Take Five" but, you know, then like kind of, you know, my interest kind of wanes.

Mr. MARSALIS: Well, OK, thank you for calling first. First, you're naming songs, OK. I would suggest that you get into artists. You're a pianist. I'm going to give you a list of piano players that I want you to check out and I think that - first of course, a pianist who's style borrows from a kind of romantic style of Chopin and Lizst would be Art Tatum, get the Art Tatum solo piano masterpieces.

ASHER: Did you say Art Tate?

Mr. MARSALIS: Art Tatum. T-A-T-U-M.

ASHER: Like Tatum - OK, Tatum O'Neal. OK, Art Tatum.

CONAN: Correct.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. And you'll certainly be impressed with his virtuosity if nothing else. OK then, I want you to go across to the other side of the field and get a man who's improvisations are incredible for their thematic, for their simplicity, for the thematic, fundamental simplicity of his themes but the complexity of the development of his solos. If you're a classical musician, you follow development. I know you love Beethoven and Beethoven sonatas. Beethoven, of course, being one of the supreme masses of the development of a short theme, that's Thelonious Monk. I want you to get the album entitled "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington."

ASHER: Thelonious Monk playing Duke Ellington?

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. The name of the album on Riverside, "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington."

ASHER: All right. Mr. MARSALIS: I guess I want you to just start with those two albums. They represent two kind of extreme ways of playing. Thelonious Monk will help you, here's an original technique which is not at all like classical technique but a thematic way of developing his solos. And the Duke Ellington material will be familiar songs, so it won't be that challenging to follow that. And then the Art Tatum has an unbelievable virtuousic technique.

ASHER: Oh, wonderful. Thank you. I appreciate your concern.

Mr. MARSALIS: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Asher, thanks very much. Why is education so important to you, Wynton?

Mr. MARSALIS: That's how we all experience life. I mean, education is about our brain and our emotions and all of that spiritual aspects of us they continue to develop where our physicality fails us. You can lose all of your physical skills and things that you can do when you can continue to read and nourish, and if you can't read, you can continue to talk to people and learn, and there are many forms of education. Those of us who have children, know you can learn from your kids.

CONAN: Let's get Katherine on the line. Katherine with us from San Francisco.

KATHERINE (Caller): Hi, thank you very much for taking my call. Mr. Marsalis, I cannot begin to tell you how much I value you. What you bring to the world it's just amazing. I wanted to tell a story as briefly as I can about when I was 11 years old and I was in New Orleans for the first time, and I went to Preservation Hall with my parents. And I was floored, we were church-going people and I had never felt God's presence, like I did at the Preservation Hall. And - so one night, I - we went back - I had my parents take me back three nights in a row. I was an indulged as a child, I think. But one night, I had the temerity to make a request, and it was "Closer Walk," and we didn't know about "Closer Walk," "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," except from singing it in church. And when I told my daddy what I had asked, he sort of grimaced, and he told me later that he thought - he was worried because I had this really great set going, and then here, you know, they were going to play this hymn and he was just, he was worried about the effect that would have on the house.

And I said, no daddy, I think it's going to be OK. So they started to play "Closer Walk", it's slow, reverential, like in, you know, in hymnal, and then, man, it cut loose with this glorious exuberance that I still feel - from the sound of my voice. I will never forget. And I see that shift happened so often, over and over and over again in jazz performances that oh God, that shift, that spiritual shift. That you know, makes its way into the secular beauty of the music as well. I just wanted to share that. I also wanted to ask you briefly. We listen to jazz at home, but my daughter, who's eight years old, I wondered if there is anything that you would really recommend that we share with her too to enhance her love of jazz.

Mr. MARSALIS: That's beautiful. First, that's a beautiful story.

CONAN: It is, yeah.

Mr. MARSALIS: And I like the use of the word glorious exuberance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KATHERINE: Thank you, sir.

Mr. MARSALIS: You know I loved that it was just a "Closer Walk with Thee," that was one of the first songs I learned. And it's a beautiful story. It's in terms of your daughter in which she would listen to, I will - suggest Louis Armstrong did a recording of Disney songs.

KATHERINE: Oh, OK.

Mr. MARSALIS: It's relatively late in his career, that's great. There's a book called Nicky the Cat that was done by Carol Friedman. That's great...

KATHERINE: OK.

Mr. MARSALIS: And then I also suggests the Solo Monk, Thelonious Monk, playing solo piano, is great for kids.

KATHERINE: Oh yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: Katherine, thanks for the call and for the exuberance.

KATHERINE: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. MARSALIS: Glorious exuberance.

CONAN: Glorious exuberance.

CONAN: More with Wynton Marsalis in a moment. More of your calls. 800-989-8255. Stay with us. I'm, Neal Conan, it's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Wynton Marsalis is our guest today, jazz trumpeter, composer, educator, and author. He's written a new book called "Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life." In it, he said he learned many of his most valuable lessons from the great of jazz. With Louis Armstrong, he writes, you have the deepest human feeling and the highest level of musical sophistication.

(Soundbite of song "West End Blues" by Louis Armstrong).

CONAN: The great Louis Armstrong, "West End Blues," and Wynton Marsalis, you dedicate an entire chapter in your book to blues. Why is it so important, so central?

Mr. MARSALIS: Because the blues captures - the blues is a form, it's a system of harmony, is a body of superbly crafted melodies that we all know. It is a rhythm. It's related to the pentatonic scale of Eastern music. It encompasses the three basic fundamental chord structures of Western music. It uses all the note and malismas of Middle Eastern music. It has a perfect three part structure and form. I could go on and on and on about the blues, it's call and response. It's more rhythm and blues for responding, than there is for calling. So as the ultimate kind of Democratic art form - I have said what I have to say. Now, let me listen to what all of you have to say, and how can all of us come together and be one.

CONAN: You tell a wonderful story in your book about when you first moved to New York and thought of it as - well, you play the blues but it was just the blues and - now you went to a club called McHale's on 97th Street.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. I was a pimp(ph) - I played with Milt Jackson and all the guys were a set and I couldn't wait for them to call me up, and they called me up on a tune. Of course, I'm young, I want to play all fast. I had velocity and playing a lot of fast music. They called a slow, slow, slow blues, and of course, what did I do, started to trying to figure out how to play fast. I couldn't figure any approach that would work because when you start the sound bad you're afraid to stop because you don't want to hear the silence, because in that silence, you also hear what you play. So sometimes you just keep playing and keep playing. And when I finished playing, I knew I had played it sad, but I circled and breathe and I did some kind of tricks and fancy stuff so people clapped. Milt Jackson came to me after that and he said - he said, you know there's a difference between how the music sounded before you came up there and how it sounded when you were up there? I said, yeah, I heard it. Then he said, you know what the difference was? I said, no sir. He said, you weren't up there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. If there is a part of jazz you don't understand or need to learn about give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Rob is calling. Rob with us from South Bend in Indiana.

ROB (Caller): Wow. Finally, cool to get through here. This is one of my all-time favorite radio shows.

CONAN: Thank you.

ROB: You were talking about the blues and that's kind of subject that really hits home for me. I actually am actually a drummer in a blues band so I hang out with musicians. You know, drummers hang out with musicians, as they say.

Mr. MARSALIS: I heard you. We got it. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROB: But you know, it's interesting, when I went to college I studied some jazz but I was kind of not interested, I was more of a rocker. I was into the progressive rock thing and you know, I just didn't really get it and then I got an opportunity to join a blues band, and one of the very first gig is we had to open for Buddy Guy.

CONAN: Wow.

ROB: And Carl Perkins was there as well and we're backstage, and I was talking to Carl Perkins and I played a little guitar and I was trying to show him how good I was, and he goes, oh that's great, I'm going to go home and forget about you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROB: And I'm thinking myself, wow, Carl Perkins is really a jerk, you know. And then he goes, no, no, wait a minute. He showed me every note that I played. And I was - you know, I played the fastest ripping thing I could to impress him and every note that I played, in his head he played back to me with feeling, and he said music is the presence and the absence of sound. If you're trying to tell someone something that's super important from your heart, you're not going to say it as fast as you physically can, you're going to emphasize the notes that really mean something. And it really got me back to go on to basics, you know, as a drummer. I mean, the shuffles, like the, you know, one of the first patterns you learn.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right.

ROB: And it's just completely changed my life, musically, and it turns out most of this blues guys are huge jazz fans as well and most of them have pretty good jazz chops, and it was just really - it's really changed my life, musically.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. That's a good story and the story about the silence too. I have a story just like the story you just told. I gave a teacher of mine when I was in high school some music I had written, and he looked at the sheet, looked down on the sheet with the written music and then he gave it right back to men and said this is sad. I said, how did you know it's sad you didn't even look at it? He says, son all great music has rest in it.

ROB: That's true.

Mr. MARSALIS: You know, it's kind of like the same story, and yet the jazz and blues are related. Everything comes from the blues. The blues is our root, the root of all American folk music, and the blues cuts across all styles of our music. And if you're a drummer, you have to know that jazz, the jazz musicians invented the drum set. Jazz musicians. Right. Added the sock cymbal, jazz musicians put the bass drum together with the snare drum, and the lineage of drummers in jazz reads like, it's a lineage of kings, going back to Baby Dodds, Big Sid Cavalier(ph), onto Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Sonny Grier (ph), George Papa Jo Jones, who taught everybody how to play sock cymbal. Then we get to the modern kings like Max Roach, Elvin Jones, so on. Tony Williams, on and on and on. We've had a fantastic lineage of great drummers and at one point so many drummers were alive - the Great Art Blakey. One of my first jobs when I was 18 was with him, so I had opportunity to see all of the drummers would come down and check him out. One night I was in the club with him, with Art, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Papa Jo Jones, Charlie Persip, a whole room full of great drummers. I thought man, this is unbelievable. These are kings of the drums.

ROB: That would be amazing.

CONAN: I had the rare chance to talk with Elvin Jones a couple of times and he spent a lot of time telling me why he thought Keith Moon was really, really such a good drummer.

Mr. MARSALIS: Yeah, right.

CONAN: Rob, thanks very much for the call.

ROB: Thank you guys.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we could get Valerie on the line. Valerie is calling from Birmingham in Alabama.

VALERIE (Caller): Hello, Neal.

CONAN: Hi.

VALERIE: Hi. And Wynton, I just want you to know, I am the greatest fan of you now, especially you and Charles Mingus, and you two have really made me love anything dealing with horn right now.

Mr. MARSALIS: Oh, thank you very much.

VALERIE: Yeah, and I've been listening to jazz since I can remember. My mother's had me listening to it, I know, since I was, like maybe two or three years old, and the one thing that I do love about jazz is that, to me is like water. It could get rough at times - it could get pretty rough at times, but when it's tap just right, it's like it glides and it flows. And I hope this isn't a kind of contradictory to my question. Now, like I said, I do listen to it, and I love to listen to it. But what I would like to know is what's the difference between the so-called contemporary jazz compared to old-school or the swing jazz?

Mr. MARSALIS: OK. The difference in what's known as contemporary jazz is the rhythm is different. Contemporary jazz is based on a back beat. Pum che ah bum bum che ah. It's like around that central beat which come from how R&B, our rock music, it's what we call a back beat. Pum bah Pum bah pum bah pum bah. Now that beat comes from jazz. So, jazz musicians used to play a shuffle. Tik tik tik de dock de tik de dock de tick de dock. So, what you do, you take the top rhythm off. Dik de dik de dik de dik. And you make it straight, straight. Dik dik dik de dum de ded de pah de dum de dah. And you put whatever music around that. 94198252 Now, the jazz is based on a swing rhythm, and the back beat is not as pronounced most of the time. It's ding ding ding ding ding ding ding. When you pronounce a back beat, when a back beat is very pronounced, it interrupts the flow of the rhythm every two beats. Normally, that was used only at the climax of a piece of jazz. We called that - what you called the back beat. Two-colored chopping wood.. Du dah du dah. Sam Woodyard, the great drummer, with Duke Ellington used to do that. But jazz is, the swing rhythm is designed to flow, like you said like water. It goes up and down, it allows you to create this little stories and develop those stories as the rhythm flows with you.

CONAN: It's dance music.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. But when you play on the back beat it roots the rhythm a lot more, it makes it a different type if dance. But it makes it less friendly to the up and down of the improvisation, and that would be the basic difference between the two. I'm not going to get into the use of electronic instruments, all of other different things because the instruments don't make that much of a difference. It's just the identity of the central rhythm is different.

VALERIE: Oh, OK. Because you see, I tried to get into the contemporary. I do listen to some of it, but it's like it just does not to me have that kick or that flow, that old school or that swing, and it - I guess, when I listen to that rhythm, to that back beat, that's what really gets me.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. The back beat is more in the contemporary jazz. Contemporary jazz is mislabeled. It's actually instrumental pop music, which is, you take the sound of just basic American pop music and play it on instruments.

VALERIE: OK. Now you know, I was kind of thinking pop music and I'm like I'm not really into pop music at all. But I have listened to some because some is pretty cool but, I knew it was something there and yeah, you helped me to make that connection. It is kind of poppish and...

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. It's pop.

VALERIE: And I like the flow.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. But they are good - there's good music in every form of music.

VALERIE: Yeah.

Mr. MARSALIS: There's good pop music. You know people are creative. So, whatever form you find, you will find people who will be creative in that form.

VALERIE: Yeah. I'm just - I'm also like an artist too or self-proclaimed artist. But it's like - I guess the difference between who really like abstract art and 3D art and this contemporary art and all that. I mean, I know an art is a wide variety, a big form of everything. Any kind of mixture doesn't even matter. And I know it's pretty much like that with music also.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right.

VALERIE: But I just knew that there was something not clicking with me for real, like I thought it should with the contemporary jazz. But I guess, I better take a look or you know, a deeper listen to it. But it still won't hit me like my old school, or my swing.

Mr. MARSALIS: Listen to the beat and you'll notice a big difference and also jazz is rooted in the blues. The contemporary pop expression is rooted in the style of church singing that came about after the 1960s...

VALERIE: Yes.

Mr. MARSALIS: Which is more kind of theatrical - it has a more theatrical concern than getting deeper into the feeling of the blues.

CONAN: Valerie, thanks very much for the call.

VALERIE: Thank you.

CONAN: So long. We're talking with Wynton Marsalis about his new book, "Moving To Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life." 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And here's an email from B.K. in Florida. I'm a professor at Florida A&M from the north and I play jazz in my political science class, and I find it disturbing that our young African-American students are unaware of our own art form. I go to jazz festivals, Newport, Montreal, North Sea and they lack any young people of color. What is happening?

Mr. MARSALIS: Well, it's just a basic ignorance of the arts that affects our whole country. It affects Afro-Americans more probably than other segments of our population. But it's something that we need to work on as a nation. Arts education in schools. It's not that the people don't like it. It's just - you're not aware of it and no one has taken the time to take you through the art form. Many times the finer things and things that will teach you the most, you have to be taught. It requires - say we didn't learn how to read without tremendous assistance, and our involvement with things like an art form requires some type of education.

CONAN: Let's talk with Holly. Holly with us from Phoenix, Arizona.

HOLLY (Caller): Hi there. Thank you so much for having Wynton Marsalis on your show and Mr. Marsalis, I wanted to let you know, my father grew up in Indianapolis in the '50s and he would visit a jazz club, a very tiny jazz club in the black community when that city was segregated. He was white and he was told many time that it was odd for him to go there, but he didn't care. That's part of the thing I love about my dad. But he played clarinet and loved jazz. And I'm really nervous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Go ahead. You're doing fine, Holly.

HOLLY: He watched Wes Montgomery play. As a new musician, he was very young and they were kind of fierce at the time and my dad became friends with him. Not long-term friends but more of a - you know he knew him when he went there and Wes always, you know, nodded to him and always, they had drinks together but my dad always opined about how great Montgomery was and sadly my dad died.

Ms. MARSALIS: There's a go and get full. That's all right.

HOLLY: He died about two years ago. Well, we put a memorial together for him and offered the albums from Wes Montgomery in there. And I'm sad because I didn't learn about him. So, if you could just tell us why Wes Montgomery was so great, I would be so thankful and I'll take your response off the air. Thanks again.

CONAN: Holly, thanks so much for the call.

Ms. MARSALIS: First, I want to tell you that you shouldn't feel bad about whatever you did when your father was alive. I have sons and kids and they're not really deeply into their music. But I don't love them because they love what I love and I know that they will get to their music eventually. They know how important it is to me. And there's so many things he taught you that he got from this music that he put in you, the type of humanity, this coming out when you're talking to us right now on air that you can get full and express that type of emotion and go through what you're saying. He - your father I'm sure he understood that because jazz music teaches us all to accept people where they are and have a love for what they can do, not for what they don't do. The thing that made Wes Montgomery so great is what makes all the musicians great. The feeling for the blues, the humanity, the sense of rhythm, the precision of his lines and just the feeling that he will give to your father. That's what he appreciated. The attention to details, things that make for first class artistry in any form.

CONAN: Well, you think of Wes Montgomery and you say, wait a minute. This sounds like a lot of other guitar players I've heard since. George Benson, a lot of people like that and the fact is Wes Montgomery changed the way that instrument sounded. A lot of people since him, play it like Wes Montgomery.

Mr. MARSALIS: Right. Charlie Christian. Wes is coming out of Charlie Christian who of course was a great contemporary. Played with Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker. Everybody loved Charlie Christian and then here comes Wes. He played with tremendous eloquence in a poetic - he had a poetic style. His lines just - he knew how to - just like a great poet. He balances the lines and they're so beautiful and lyrical that George Benson, all other guitarists couldn't help but be influenced by it, and it always had a good - a great feeling to the rhythm. So there's always that combination. They've got an attention to detail and a sophistication and also that down home type of earthy basic feeling that undergirds all of life.

CONAN: If you'd like to find out more about what makes the great jazz musicians great, Jelly Roll Morton and Charlie Parker and well, we've talked about Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. Well, pick up the new book by Wynton Marsalis, "Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life." Wynton Marsalis joined us today from our bureau in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. MARSALIS: All right.

CONAN: Coming up, the levees held in New Orleans as the winds and flooding from Hurricane Gustav caused extensive damage along the Gulf Coast. If you lived in the past of Gustav, how did you weather the storm? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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