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What It Takes - Wynton Marsalis

What It Takes - Wynton Marsalis
What It Takes - Wynton Marsalis
What It Takes: Wynton Marsalis
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00:00:25 ALICE WINKLER: Wynton Marsalis once called music “the art of the invisible,” and he said the notes were infused with a magical essence.

00:00:34 WYNTON MARSALIS: It’s like the feeling of “I love you” before the words or the crest of a kiss before you’ve even puckered your lips. Well, in jazz we call this “soul” — and no one really knows what “soul” means. The only thing we know about soul is that you feel much better after you've come into contact with it than you felt before it was present.

00:00:54 ALICE WINKLER: Wynton Marsalis should know. He is the best-known jazz musician of our times. He’s also a classical musician; and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer; and managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He’s all that and a bag of chips, and he is the subject of this episode of What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement.

00:01:17 I’m Alice Winkler.

00:01:19 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.

00:01:25 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.

00:01:31 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.

00:01:36 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.

00:01:43 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”

00:01:51 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

00:01:56 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.

00:02:08 ALICE WINKLER: Here’s trumpet player Wynton Marsalis in 1991, describing where the music he hears in his head comes from.

00:02:17 WYNTON MARSALIS: Whenever I see myself in a situation — I meet a new person or something — I wonder what they would sound like in music. Or something that's ironic or funny, or if you go to the zoo and you look at animals, they all look — they have a musical type. Or colors, you know. So much stuff can be related to music.

00:02:33 It can be the type of shoes somebody has on, or maybe it's the way you do this with your mustache, you know. It's like a question. Maybe it's like a phrase that goes... It can be anything. The type of clothing people wear, earrings, or the way a woman will move, you know.

00:02:51 She might touch her lips a certain way or move her eyes a certain way or look at you a certain way. Or paintings, like sometimes I go to the Museum of Modern Art, or I get books of paintings from Bearden, Picasso, Titian, Goya. It doesn't make a difference what the period is. Or reading a book. Like, I remember once when I was reading the Iliad, and I thought, "Boy, you could make a great — some music out of this, tunes for each character." It's just anything.


00:04:23 ALICE WINKLER: Marsalis was just 29 when he sat down for this interview with the Academy of Achievement. He had already recorded 24 albums, in just nine years, mind you. Six of them were classical, and that range contributed to his status as a young phenom.


00:05:07 ALICE WINKLER: But jazz was and is Marsalis’s deepest passion and he its greatest champion. For 35 years, he’s been fighting for jazz to be recognized as a pillar of American culture, history, and art.


00:05:32 ALICE WINKLER: Here he is in a 1990 speech to students at the Academy of Achievement.

00:05:38 WYNTON MARSALIS: Jazz music is central to American mythology. What this means is that it lets us know what it means to be American, just like the story of Odysseus and Achilles and the Iliad and the Odyssey were central to what it meant to be Greek. But when I go to schools all around the country, there’s no knowledge of who Duke Ellington was, no knowledge of who Louis Armstrong was.

00:06:03 We don’t have a good grasp of the American aesthetic. What we have nowadays is what I call a “commercial” mythology. Oh yes, and the commercial mythology, it has its own gods, and it even refers to things in terms of economics. "Well, don’t you know they sold 25 million albums?" Yes, but what was on those albums? "Don’t you know so-and-so just purchased this with their money?" The mythology teaches us about our inner life. This is the thing that I find our young students are lacking.

00:06:36 ALICE WINKLER: The inner life — the American aesthetic — it struck Wynton like a bolt of lightning when he was 12 or 13 years old and heard John Coltrane playing his saxophone.


00:07:12 WYNTON MARSALIS: “Ooh-wee-doo.” I'd come home and put that Coltrane record on, and “Cousin Mary” would be playing “poo-da-loo-wee,” just the sound in that music...

00:07:31 Just listening to Trane [John Coltrane], that type of cry that he had in his sound. And I wanted to make somebody feel like how that made me feel listening to it — just a pride or just a something, a dignity to it. It had nobility to it, a profundity, and I just wanted to be a part of it, even though it didn't exist in my era.

00:07:50 So we would go on our bandstand and it'd be... I mean it'd be fun, and the women would be out there. We'd be singing and, you know, making our little symbols and our dance steps. You have, like, battles of the bands, and everybody's band would be there, but it would be loud! You know, we'd be playing so loud half the time, my ears would be ringing after the gigs.

00:08:09 And when you listen to Trane and them, well, that's like some real human. That's something that's about elevation. You know, that's, like, something. It's about — it's like making love to a woman. It's about something of value. It's not just, like, loud.


00:08:39 ALICE WINKLER: Of course, it wasn’t just Coltrane that set Marsalis on his path to greatness. His father, Ellis Marsalis, was a jazz musician. His brothers Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason would all become accomplished players, and by the age of six, Wynton had already been given a trumpet by bandleader Al Hirt.

00:08:59 WYNTON MARSALIS: My father was playing in Al Hirt's band at that time, and he got me a trumpet because my older brother Branford was playing the clarinet and the piano, so he didn't want me to feel left out. But I wasn't going to feel left out because I didn't feel like practicing. So then when they got me a trumpet, then I had to practice it, and I was like, "Oh, man."

00:09:16 And I didn't actually start practicing until I was 12. But the first time I ever played the trumpet in public, I played a piece called the “Marine Hymn.” You know the “Marine Hymn.” I can't even remember it right now, but everybody knows it. So I played that at this junior recital the kids went to, and I messed up something terrible, but my mother, she thought I sounded good because, like, she goes, "Oh, my baby sounds so good."

00:09:43 ALICE WINKLER: But Marsalis, despite Mom, swears he did not sound good, and that’s because he really didn’t want to play the trumpet.

00:09:51 WYNTON MARSALIS: No, I didn't want to get that ring around my lips from practicing the trumpet because I thought the girls wouldn't like me, so I never practiced. As a matter of fact, when I was going into high school, when I was 12, and the band director — at this particular high school they had eighth-grade classes attached to the high school, so the band director was all excited because my father was a well-known musician in New Orleans. He said, "Ellis Marsalis's sons are coming here," except he heard me play, and he said, "Are you sure you’re one of Ellis's sons?" I was sad then. I really couldn't play.

00:10:20 ALICE WINKLER: And he was into other stuff, like sports and hanging out with friends and getting in trouble.

00:10:26 WYNTON MARSALIS: I was, like, a devious kind of — I would do all kinds of dumb stuff. We would throw rocks through windows of train stations and stuff. I would go around to the corner and steal from the stores, and I liked to play ball. I was a mediocre ball player. Sometimes I could be good. Not really good or — I didn't have a lot of athletic ability, but I would work at it. We'd play football in the street. I grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, and they still had the ditches on the sides of the street.

00:10:55 It's country. A railroad track separated the black people from the white people. And I would do my homework and study, but I liked to just generally have a good time. Go in the back with my friends and listen to Stevie Wonder records or whatever was popular at the time. But I liked to tease people, too. That was my best hobby. We would call it ribbin'. I played “the dozens,” and you could — that's where you talk about somebody's mama, or you talk about the kind of clothes they have on or the way they look.

00:11:25 You could talk about them so bad it just — we just would all have to start laughing. You know, somebody really talks about you real bad. I liked doing that and playing marbles. We played marbles. I have five brothers, and we'd go up on the levee in New Orleans. The river was there. We lived, like, a block from the Mississippi River, and we'd go what we called “exploring.” We'd just go around and see, and we'd ride our bikes, but I had a good time.

00:11:52 ALICE WINKLER: But then came Coltrane and Louis Armstrong and a new commitment to learning his instrument, hours a day — three, four, five hours a day — and he started playing the horn parts in pop gigs around New Orleans. At 14, he had his orchestral debut with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Meanwhile, he was still in school, getting A’s, and reading a lot.

00:12:16 I would read all of the black books, like Autobiography of Malcolm X and Soul on Ice. My father had those books. But I would read a wide range of things. Mainly I liked biographies, to read about somebody's life or to read about the geographical locations — like Australia was my favorite continent because I would read about the koala bear and the marsupials and the eucalyptus trees. You know, I mean this is when I was, like, seven and eight and nine.

00:12:44 But as I grew older, then I started reading more books. Like, I would read collections of people, like Edgar Allen Poe. Then I'd read Charles Dickens. Then I'd read Herman Melville. Then I'd read Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. You know, it'd just go from person to person to person, and I think my favorite type of writer that I really like is — I really like William Faulkner.

00:13:10 He's from the South, you know, and just the way — the poetry of his language and the type of people he's describing, it's like people that I knew. So I like his writing. I like Hemingway, too, for the short sentences, just the style. It's like Lester Young's style in jazz. Whereas William Faulkner, that style is more like Art Tatum or Coltrane, like real virtuosic runs or these long two-hour sentences.

00:13:34 ALICE WINKLER: Music became the lens Wynton Marsalis used to take in the world. He was such a good student, he got a scholarship to an Ivy League school, but his heart was set on Juilliard, and so he made the tough leap from Louisiana to New York City. A country kid of 17, who stood out for the way he spoke and dressed and looked. Today, Marsalis is the director of jazz studies at Juilliard, in addition to his other titles.

00:14:02 But back when he arrived as a student, Juilliard didn’t have a jazz program. He studied classical, as he told interviewer Irv Drasnin.

00:14:12 IRV DRASNIN: When you were a kid growing up, I mean what did you think about classical music? What was your attitude towards classical music?

00:14:18 WYNTON MARSALIS: Mainly I thought it was something for some old white people to do, that you would cough through. So I equated, like, some old white men with beards and stuff — and some women, too. They'd have their gowns on, and they would be playing, and the people would be there going... and then, you know, they would be playing. And we used to have to go to these “days at the symphony” when I was in elementary school, which I always hated.

00:14:41 I'd be like, "Oh, man, we’ve got to sit through this bull." So I would sit, and they would talk about, "This is the bassoon..." "And this is the flute..." "This is the violin..." "This is the trumpet..." And I'd be saying, "Oh, no." "This is the snare..." Like a little joke that goes — "And this is the bass..." "This is the cello..."

00:15:07 I didn't dig it, you know. I was, "Man, what is this?"

00:15:10 IRV DRASNIN: Well, something changed your mind.

00:15:12 WYNTON MARSALIS: Well, it's like any ignorance you have — whenever you have to be around something and you can get past your clichéd version of what it is, if you — like, I was in an orchestra. I remember we were playing Beethoven’s Fifth, and I was in an orchestra rehearsal — New Orleans Youth Orchestra — which I had just gotten in just to be in an orchestra. I still didn't really love classical music that much, but I could play the trumpet enough to play...

00:15:41 So we would be rehearsing every day, and I would be just checking the music out. The bass would come in... And I'd be listening... And the strings come in... I'd just be checking it out, you know, the different movements and the sound of that music. And then after rehearsal would be over, I would be humming the themes to myself, and I'd be saying, "Well, man, you know, this is some great music."

00:16:10 I couldn't deal with all the prejudices I had against the music. They were stripped away by the fact of the music.


00:17:12 WYNTON MARSALIS: Like I hear people now always trying to dismiss these great masterpieces: "Oh, that's just European music." They don't know what they are talking about because if you have to sit in an orchestra and listen to Beethoven's music, you come force to force with a great human achievement. And just that music, you know — the music was — just especially Beethoven's music. He was my favorite composer. Just that music was just so powerful and great that I just had to deal with it. I said, "Man, I like this music."

00:17:40 I just had to confront it in myself, and I would listen to all of Beethoven's symphony, you know, the Third Symphony... And then I went to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and I had a teacher named Dr. Breaux, and he made us analyze all of the nine symphonies. So then I could see, like, how the music was put together from an architectural standpoint. Here's the theme, and here's the secondary theme, and this is the theme stated in the dominant key.

00:18:10 And this is sonata-allegro form, and this is a scherzo, and this is a — you just learn the different forms. Then you can... Plus Beethoven music had that life in it, you know, just that feeling. And the slow movements would be really profound and slow and pretty. I remember when I heard the Sixth Symphony, the beginning of that.

00:18:33 The first time I checked it out, it sounded like some blues almost, you know. Just the poetry of the line... Just that song, you know... So I would go home and check it out, you know... I couldn't wait to hear that. And I would listen to Maurice André play and read the liner notes of his records, and they said he worked in a coal mine, so I was: "This guy worked in a coal mine. Now he's playing classical trumpet."

00:19:00 And I just liked his sounds, the vibrancy of the sound, and I always wanted to play like him in classical music. It gave me almost the same feeling that I got when I would be listening to Coltrane and them.

00:19:13 ALICE WINKLER: So Marsalis was fluent in both languages, classical and jazz, as well as a few others he had picked up along the way. By day he followed the traditional Juilliard course of studies, but on the side...


00:19:32 ALICE WINKLER: He dove into all New York had to offer.


00:19:41 ALICE WINKLER: He became a best friend and disciple of the jazz and culture critic Stanley Crouch. He started sitting in with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and then practically every other living luminary of jazz: Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and many others. Finally, he formed his own band. He loved classical and continued to play, but his heart belonged to jazz.


00:20:49 WYNTON MARSALIS: Well, the first thing about jazz is that it has so many functions. First is the communal function. Coming from the New Orleans music, where it's played to celebrate births, funerals — the celebratory aspects of the music, the parade, which, around the turn of the century, was a real popular thing. You had bands, like the John Philip Sousa Band, and that's a heroic sound.

00:21:18 And jazz music is the American version of that appropriation of something European. Then you have the whole dance connotation with jazz music, which, I think it reached its most popular point in the country with the swing era, but still, the elements of jazz are in all of the music. Then you have the element of refinement of folk themes, which you find in all classical music, and this is what the jazz musicians do with the songs of Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

00:21:49 Like when you hear Ben Webster play a Cole Porter song, the art of jazz is what he performs on the theme. Like Hoagy Carmichael, when he first heard Louis Armstrong do “Stardust,” he said, "Man, I wish I had written that" or "It can't sound any better than that." Then you have the conception of New Orleans jazz group improvisation — cooperative ensemble playing — which functions exactly like a democracy, which is each person has the right to play what they want to play, but the responsibility to play something that makes everybody else sound good.

00:22:28 So it's — the way that these horns relate to the rhythm section, it's like a musical example of how a democracy should work. Then you have the whole vocal music tradition that's in jazz. The greatest singers, like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Mahalia Jackson, who was not a jazz singer, but she's an honorary because she was so great in gospel music that they consider her a jazz singer. And you have a tradition of instrumental virtuosity, which has produced the greatest innovators on any instrument.

00:23:00 Like, the trumpet will never be the same after Louis Armstrong. There were great trumpet players in the European tradition, and there were great trumpet players in the African tradition — of playing the trumpets they played — but when Louis Armstrong played the trumpet, he simultaneously innovated in both of those idioms. And that's true on every instrument: Paul Chambers on the bass, and Jimmy Blanton, Ray Brown, Art Tatum on the piano, Thelonious Monk on the piano, Duke Ellington in composition, his whole harmonic conception, his conception of form and motion, logic, structure.

00:23:37 The conception of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which is a whole aggregation of individuals, and he had to conceive of music that would allow each of those individual personalities to speak and grow and develop. So that's a different conception from, let's say, a European composer who would sit down and say, "Okay, I'm writing for trumpet." Duke Ellington was writing for Cootie Williams's trumpet or for the trumpet of Ray Nance.

00:24:01 You know, this is not to say better or worse, because certainly, no one can sneer at the masterworks of Bach or Beethoven. Only a fool would do that. But there's a lot of that going on nowadays, but that's very foolish. It's just to say that this is an American conception, the fact that this is not just trumpet, this is Cootie Williams's trumpet. It's like a democracy — individual voice. But you have to fit it into the context of the ensemble, and it has an evolution in which different aspects of the tradition have been taken out and developed, like Charlie Parker developed one aspect of it.

00:24:35 Thelonious Monk developed one aspect of it. John Coltrane developed the spiritual aspect and a call-and-response aspect of the group polyphony. So there's so much in jazz music to be studied and to be learned, and so little education that — I could go on and on and on, you know, just about what Duke Ellington did and also the romantic connotation of the music. The music had the effect of liberating a lot of the people from this Victorian image of sexuality, but for some reason, people still think they need to be liberated from that.

00:25:06 This is something that jazz music was doing around the turn of the century, and now it's degenerated in the modern era to the type of vulgarity that's represented by rock and roll, which parades under the guise of giving you sexual freedom when it's really, truly sexual repression. The sexual freedom is found in the sensuality and the romance and the lyricism of the great songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter and Duke Ellington and of the great instrumentalists like Louis Armstrong and Lester Young.

00:25:31 These people had a truly romantic conception that was based on elevation of the relationship between a man and a woman rather than denigration of it into just some adolescent — abusive adolescent sexual discoveries.

00:25:47 So jazz music, it has a component for every aspect of American life. The great musicians come — Duke Ellington was from Washington. Thelonious Monk was from North Carolina. Louis Armstrong was from New Orleans. Elvin Jones is from Detroit. Fletcher Henderson was from New York. Dexter Gordon is from California. The list goes — musicians come from everywhere. Charlie Parker was from Kansas City. Musicians come from every direction, and they give us a portrait of the country, of just the feeling of our nation.


00:26:36 IRV DRASNIN: It's more than just a musical forum. It is a tradition. It is part of American history and culture and life.

00:26:42 WYNTON MARSALIS: Oh yes, and that's what we need right now because we've gotten so far away from our own mythology, and because the American mythology has been skewed so much against what the country actually represents. Like one prime example for that would be a cowboy and Indian movie. Like, those movies served a good purpose because they identified heroes. They identified values. But the problem with the movie was that it was a denigration of a noble people.

00:27:08 So you need something that doesn't denigrate other people, and that's what jazz music is. It doesn't denigrate anybody. It's designed to elevate everybody, and it addresses aspects of everybody's music: European music, African music, Indian music, Chinese music, Japanese — you could study any style of music and you will hear something in it that sounds like jazz music.

00:27:30 I'm listening to Japanese music now from the — it's called gagaku, the court music from 800 AD, and the melody sounds like blues in this one piece. It goes... That's the only part I can remember... I can't remember it all, but it has that sound of blues in it. Jazz music just touches every — it touches all the aspects of people. It elevates them.

00:28:03 ALICE WINKLER: And he elevated it. Remember, jazz was decades out of fashion when Wynton Marsalis came calling. He’s the one largely responsible for glorifying its status, earning it the respect an American treasure is due, not only by playing it but by steeping himself in its history and teaching it. In the mid-'90s, he created and hosted an epic four-hour public television series and an even more epic 26-part NPR series about jazz.

00:28:35 Wynton Marsalis was — and still is — the philosopher king of the jazz world. Some of his views over the years have rankled other musicians, his judgments on what does or does not qualify as jazz, for instance. But here’s what he told interviewer Irv Drasnin, in 1991, was the hardest obstacle he faced as a young artist.

00:28:56 WYNTON MARSALIS: Well, you know, everything is difficult that's worth achieving, so for me, when you're on a certain level of sensitivity, there are a lot of things that are difficult. Like growing up in the environment I grew up in was difficult, dealing with the type of intellectual isolation that I've had to deal with. Just because what I — and then to — nobody in my generation really was into that, so —

00:29:20 Like I've never had a real true camaraderie with my peer group like I would want to have. And that's been, like, a source of real true pain for me, especially in terms of trying to recruit an audience and have people really understand what you’re doing, in your age group, and have a real meaningful dialogue with your audience — which is something every musician wants. And just not to have that, to not have the possibility for that.

00:29:49 See, it's not like you don't have it, and it's not like going on a court and playing basketball, and you’re Michael Jordan, where you go out and you play way better than everybody else so you need to play against certain competition. It's where you go out to play and nobody wants to play basketball, so you have to go out every day and play yourself, you know, or just a few people.

00:30:10 ALICE WINKLER: Marsalis may not have had the musical and intellectual company of his peers, but thanks to the more vibrant jazz world he’s helped create, younger generations of jazz musicians haven’t had to suffer the isolation he felt. In other words, there are a lot more of them than when he was coming up. Box checked. One of his other goals, he said back when he was 29, was to learn to become a better composer.

00:30:36 WYNTON MARSALIS: Just really — I want to learn how to really write jazz music and just capture a portion of what I really see around me. Like, because now I function at, like, 20% of my capability because I don't have the technique to write down what I hear and see and feel, and I don't have the technical — I can't do it. So I have to work on that because I can really conceive of — and then I'm writing songs about animals, a whole series of songs just on animals, a whole series of songs based on Japanese music, based on —

00:31:06 I mean, like, really from a conceptual standpoint, and also just dealing with jazz music and some pretty music. You know, something that people can like but that will also be good. Try to bring dance back into the music. Try to deal with film and the music, and try to write opera, write ballets. There's a lot I want to do. I'm sure I won't do it all, but if I could just get the technique to do it.


00:31:38 ALICE WINKLER: Well, perhaps it’s no surprise that Wynton Marsalis put his mind and heart into it, and just three years after this interview, composed an epic jazz oratorio that would win him a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, it was the first Pulitzer ever awarded to a jazz artist. The piece, called “Blood on the Fields,” traces the life of a couple through slavery and freedom.


00:32:19 ALICE WINKLER: Wynton Marsalis has achieved just about every goal he’d set for himself, even the suite of music about animals he dreamed of 25 years ago when he spoke with the Academy of Achievement. That work, called “Spaces,” premiered just a few months ago, as I record this podcast. It was performed in Rose Hall, a facility at Lincoln Center exclusively for jazz that Marsalis established.

00:32:46 It was played by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with tap dancer Jared Grimes and street dancer Lil Buck. Sadly, I can’t play you an excerpt of that music because it hasn’t yet been recorded commercially but watch for it. You’ll hear the sound of Marsalis’s trumpet blending with the voices of all the other instruments, telling a story that contains the soul of America.

00:33:12 WYNTON MARSALIS: And the soul is the most important thing about being human. It is the thing that you must cherish and develop throughout the entirety of your life. It, and it alone, is what determines who you are. Now I understand when I say “the soul,” that could mean anything. A lot of people think it’s some chicken gravy spilled on your tie, but that’s not what it is.

00:33:36 The soul is best embodied in a man like Louis Armstrong. Someone asked him, "Well, Louis, you know, why is it that you are loved and respected all over the world?" He went to Africa, and they stopped having a war so that he could be there. Said, "We're going to stop warring today because Pops is going to be here with his horn."

00:33:55 Pops was in Germany, Japan, China. It didn’t make a difference where he went. Everybody loved him because he was the real representative of America and American democracy. They could feel that soul, the depth of manhood. And if I talk to any musicians who were around him — I’ve had musicians come up to me with tears in their eyes and say, "Son, you know, you sound good on your horn, don’t get me wrong. You're cool. But until you realize how great a man Louis Armstrong was, you will never get anywhere in American music."

00:34:25 It can be all-white Italian musicians, Chinese musicians. Matter of fact, I was in Brazil somewhere and some guy who was working on a highway by a bordello — or by the — what do they call it? The favela. Some guy out on the street by a favela looked at me and said. "Ah, tocando, Louis Armstrong." I said, "Ah, even they know who Louis Armstrong is."

00:34:51 Louis Armstrong represented something as a man, and his spirit and the things that he said were — when he was asked this question, he said, "They know that I am there in the cause of happiness."

00:35:04 Not, “They know that I’m here and I’m Louis Armstrong. Everybody knows I’m the greatest trumpet player in the world. I’ve practiced more. I’m the originator of the American style of trumpet, the American style of phrasing, the American vocal style. I’m Louis Armstrong. I was born poor, and now I’m rich."

00:35:22 He said, "I am there in the cause of happiness." And that is what is central to your interactions with other people. If you’re a scientist, your job is to create and discover things that make the world a better place for others. If you are a teacher, if you are an athlete — and the way that we reach even higher levels of elegance and majesty is when we realize that we are basically in the service of others that we are around.

00:35:50 What matters is that you take whatever talent and abilities you have been endowed with by the Creator, develop them to the fullest of your abilities, and then place those abilities at the foot of humanity.


00:36:13 WYNTON MARSALIS: When I stand up on the stage now and play my horn, I don’t think, "Check me out and what I'm going to play." I think, "I am honored to stand here tonight in front of these people who have paid to hear — and I hope that I present a portion of the majesty and the beauty and grandeur of my tradition in the type of pride and honor I feel at being an American and having the chance to realize that ideal, in spite of racism and other types of ignorances that have been developed more than the beauty of our country." Thank you.

00:36:45 ALICE WINKLER: That is Wynton Marsalis, speaking there to delegates and members from around the world at the Academy of Achievement Summit in 1990.


00:37:10 ALICE WINKLER: I’m Alice Winkler, and this is What It Takes. Check back in two weeks for another episode, and in the meanwhile, tell your friends to subscribe. Thanks to you for listening, and thanks to the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation for funding What It Takes.



What It Takes is a podcast of conversations with well-known people in almost every field. The interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by the American Academy of Achievement. They offer life stories of people who have had a huge impact on the world. They offer insights you can apply to your own life.