On April 24, 2009, alumnus Wynton Marsalis conducted a workshop, excerpted below, with NOCCA Level IV Jazz students for students from across New Orleans as part of the Jazz & Heritage Festival’s education outreach held at Tulane University’s Dixon Hall.
The NOCCA septet had just opened with “Stablemates” by Benny Golson.
“When you are dealing with music and the arts, it’s important to be honest.” Wynton Marsalis began. “We’re used to being polite so being honest is sometimes hard. Tell me, what did you think of your performance?” Were you swinging? Was the audience?”
“Parts were good,” a student slowly answered.
“If I gave you a hamburger and some parts were good and some weren’t, would you eat it?” Wynton responded. “You have to play with urgency and purpose all of the time. I want you all to start thinking. When I see you in five years, I want to see that you are great. Not just comfortable.”
Over an hour and a half, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center dissected student performances and demonstrated with his own horn, covering the importance of knowing that intensity does not mean playing too loud or too long; leaving spaces between notes to diversify rhythms just as we speak, respecting your musical ideas, making intelligent choices, listening to and supporting fellow band members, and mastering New Orleans’ music tradition.
“I don’t know where I was going with the solo,” one student answered along the way. “That’s right,” said Wynton. “That’s honest. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing where you are going. That is why you are learning. Jazz is a music of communication. We are talking about knowledge and intensity. I want you to practice fundamentals, draw up your own schedule, be consistent, chart your progress, set goals, get over being shy – ask musicians questions; people don’t mind giving you information. And live; if you don’t you won’t have anything to say.”