Friday, March 20, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Wynton Marsalis doesn’t leave home without his trumpet or book of poems, and while on tour, he’ll spend the late night hours talking about music and verse with the young members of his band. On his new album, “He and She,” Marsalis combines his passions for jazz and poetry in a rumination on the relationship between a man and a woman through the years.

“I’ve always been a big fan of poetry even before I was in high school,” said Marsalis, interviewed in the office of Blue Note President Bruce Lundvall, who signed the teenage trumpeter to his first record deal in 1980 with Columbia Records. “I read poetry on the road to the cats in the band. And I keep a copy of William Butler Yeats with me, and for years I’ve been on the road reading him.”

Marsalis has combined jazz and the spoken word before, most notably on his 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz oratorio on slavery and freedom, “Blood on the Fields.” On “He and She,” Marsalis takes a more lighthearted approach with fragments of his original poem serving as preludes to a collection of jazz compositions covering a range of styles _ New Orleans street groove, hard bop and beyond, jazz waltzes, Latin jazz and the blues.

The musical seed for the album was planted when Sean Jones, Marsalis’ fellow trumpeter in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, turned him on to drummer Max Roach’s 1957 album “Jazz In 3/4 Time,” an album of jazz tunes in waltz time, including tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ “Valse Hot.” The trumpeter’s thoughts turned to the courtship ritual associated with the waltz _ and that resulted in what turned out to be the first tune for the album “Girls!”

Marsalis began writing the poem that serves as the album’s framework while performing at the jazz festival in Marciac, France, in 2006, drawing inspiration from Irish poet Yeats’ “Under Ben Bulben” with its reflections on mortality. Marsalis began thinking about the different kinds of conversations he’s had with women of all ages.

“A good friend of mine, (writer) Stanley Crouch would tease me when one of my girlfriends became impregnated, He said one plus one equals three,” said Marsalis, who has never been married but has three sons from past relationships, the youngest, 12-year-old Jasper, with actress Victoria Rowell (“The Young and the Restless”).

“I started to put all these things together. I decided I would write a poem and then have some music come out of the poem. … I wanted the structure of the poem to have all kinds of threes in it … a man, a woman and a country bluesman; and things that are metaphors for that _ the sun, the moon, the midnight sky.”

The crux of the poem is the different ways men and women conceive of their relationship. One plus one might equal two when you’re a schoolboy, but “in the arena of romance one plus one does not equal two,” the 47-year-old Marsalis says.

“One plus one equals three _ me, you and the two of us together _ that’s like a man’s way of looking at it. I’ve got my thing, you’ve got your thing and we come together. A woman’s way of looking at it is we come together and we’re together, so one plus one equals one. That kind of humor is in beer commercials. A woman is always trying to make the man come together, but he always wants to see his football game and drink his beer.”

The CD’s opening tune “School Boy” has a “square, happy kind of feeling” with its New Orleans two-beat and modern swing grooves portraying a young boy who knows little about girls. On “Fears,” about a young man being petrified around the opposite sex, Marsalis ventures into freer playing. “Razor Rim,” probably the most involved song with its shifting rhythms and modal style, is meant to show the complexity of a woman.

There’s also a four-part minisuite representing romantic milestones in an adolescent relationship, including the romantic waltz “First Slow Dance,” the awkward “First Kiss” with the horns slipping and sliding around, and “First Time” with its hot Latin rhythms expressing the passion of making love for the first time.

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