[Dixielandjazz] Wynton Marsalis' advice to Juilliard's 2006 Graduating Class.
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 23 19:42:04 PDT 2006
>From another list and my friend Norman Vickers. There is some good advice
Wynton Marsalis's Speech to the 2006 Graduating Class
I'm going to provide you all with very few practical words, the fruits of
many happy years of varied experiences in the arts.
First, congratulations. No one is ever going to ask you to see your grades.
Take all jobs. If somebody says, "Can you ?" say, "Yes, I can."
Leave jobs that you hate immediately.
If you find a job that doesn't feel like a job, don't let others for whom it
is a job make it feel like a job to you.
If you find yourself working at your craft, be happy, because it might not
Being dissatisfied is not an achievement.
Every chance you get to perform is important. It could be at an elementary
school, it could be at a rehearsalevery little aspect of it is sacred and
And, just as a rule, people are generally more enthusiastic the less they're
being paid. Many times people want to know about commercialism versus art.
Do what you want to do. Don't be conflicted. But realize that integrity is
real, and so is starvation.
Never let pay and the talk of pay occupy more time and space than the talk
of your art. If you find that it is, go into banking, or start a hedge fund
Also, about pay: understand where you are. When I was 19, I was on a tour
with Herbie Hancock and I started complaining to him before we walked
onstage about what I was being paid. He said, "Come here, man. Look out into
the audience." He said, "Now, do you see those people?" I said, "Yes, sir."
He said, "They paid for these tickets. If you don't walk out onto the stage,
how many of them are going to leave? Now, if I don't walk out, how many
will leave? That's why you're being paid what you're being paid."
Always remember that an agent that you have just met is not your friend.
Never deny a compliment after a performance. "Oh, I love your " "No, I
didn't " No. No Say, "Thank you." It takes a lot less words.
If you sign an autograph, always look at the person before you hand it to
If you've written some music, and everybody is bored, and you even find
yourself getting a little bored, it's boring. Don't worry. I would also like
to debunk the notion that it will be understood later, because if that were
the case, we would have a lot of boring pieces from the 1870s that would be
popular hits right now.
If you notice that everybody at the table has been quiet for a very, very
long time, except for you, you've been talking too much.
Now, to combat nervousness: Number one, practice a lot. Two, think about how
unimportant what you're doing is in the general scheme of things. Three,
breathe very deeply and relax. Number four, envision great success, or
envision failure and figure, how bad could that be? Finally, forget about
all of that stuff and just go ahead and do your thing.
In a crisis, or if you are caught lying, you have to come with the truth.
Always tell the truth in a crisis.
When you get a bad review, never ask someone if they've seen it.
Don't pretend not to have seen it. Never, ever dwell on itor on them, in
case you get more than one, which you will if you stay out hereso as to
mention it to someone who might not even know or care about what you're
talking about. Too much commenting on bad things or criticism, somebody
attacking you, is really a form of egotism.
Don't eat too much bread late at night after performances. But wine is O.K.
Never take the last of anything off of a table when you are a guest. Let
that last thing sit there. "Do you want ?" "No, I don't want " the last
I also want you all to realize that our collective success as artists, all
of us, is inextricably tied to the taste levels of the world. The concerned,
the refined, the soulfulthey're always at battle with the callous, the
crass, and the exploitative. That's why Picasso said that a work of art is
actually a weapon. You know, we fight for consumers. Artists have always had
to fight for consumers. And you allall of you young artistsyou're called
to battle the runaway global descent in the popular taste. You're called to
do that without snobbery, or prejudice, or retreat into the smug, high
ground of the academyand please, without selling out, or selling people
Use your talent, your good looks, and your education, to transform the whole
world with the power of art. Engage the world through inspired teaching,
through tireless proselytizing, through an unwavering practice of craft at
its highest levels. Engage the world of fellow artists, teachers, audiences,
students, critics and other various haters, with a boundless energy, an
irrepressible zeal, an unassailable humility, and an infectious joie de
vivre. Then you go from being the isolated, misunderstood, besieged artist
to being a powerful testimony for the inevitable transcendence of artistry.
You see, as you all go out into the world, know that you have a very special
gift: a gift that announces itself through music, dance, drama, film,
literature, comedy, painting. You have a gift that survives. It survives the
disappointment of not being famous, or not becoming as great as you thought
you would be. It's a gift that many times actually grows larger with life's
unpredictable and inevitable heartbreaks.
This gift is as old as cave people gathering around a campfire to skillfully
lie about some animals they killed. Or some grizzled old cowboys trying to
shake the trail dust off their brains with an old harmonica and some
out-of-tune song, and some nasty coffee. Or Negro slaves at a jubilee,
healing days and nights of sorrow with the bittersweet balm of a dancing
fiddle and the piercing cry of the blues. Or a stage re-enactment of some
epochal love affair that rekindles again and again the grandeur of romance
between a man and a woman for those who may have forgotten.
This is the gift that caused old, sick, deaf Beethoven to crawl out of his
bed at 2:37 in the morning and put his ears on the piano just to hear the
vibrations. He couldn't hear any notes. This is the gift that had old, blind
Matisse laying up on his bed, looking up at the ceiling with a stick, trying
to put some color on the ceiling, to figure out some way to squeeze the last
moment of something out of his life.
What about Louis Armstrong? The Promethean giant of American feeling, with
lips as scarred as the moon, reaching for those last few, blood-soaked high
C's? Yes, this gift is something.
Whether you play on the main stage of the world or you toil in obscurity,
believe me, you have the gift to create community with your song, with your
dance. Don't sell it short. Get people to gather around, and understand that
we are us, and we become us through art by hearing about who we used to be,
who we are, and, in some cases, who we should beor who we're going to be.
Use this gift wisely. And if you end up broke, or unhappy, or lonely, it's
going to be by choice, because people love art, and they love artists, and
they love to be touched, and they love for you to touch them, and they love
you. They're not your enemy; they're your friend. And you won't believe the
way that they'll open their heart and the love that they will give you.
In closing, I'm going to go to an old master of plantation trumpet, Enute
Johnson, the early pioneer. He played the cornet around 1883.
A government interviewer found him as an old man, got him a new set of
teeth. He saw him working in the sugar-cane fields, around Vacherie, La. He
observed that Enute Johnson was not bitter at all about his seeming
misfortune. So he asked Enute to reflect on his trumpet playing and other
things that he liked to do.
Mr. Johnson said, "Son, play long, play hard, and play as much as possible."
And that makes life quite sweet, brothers and sisters.
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