From Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman, the trumpeter picks breaks down tracks and albums that exemplify different aspects of a great American art form
“It’s self-explanatory,” Wynton Marsalis says, pointing toward the papers in front of him. “Basically, if you look at what I wrote, that says everything you need to know.”
The trumpeter had entered only about 30 seconds before, walking into a small conference room at the New York offices of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Impeccably dressed in a gray suit, he leaned in for a quick hug by way of a greeting. If Marsalis seemed a tad impatient, he had a point: The document he’d prepped did in fact speak for itself.
It was a two-page list of essential jazz recordings, containing 50 entries. Marsalis had assembled his choices in conjunction with new biopic Bolden, out Friday, which tells the story of Buddy Bolden, the legendary unrecorded first hero of New Orleans jazz, and which Marsalis both executive-produced and contributed music to. Preparing for his meeting with Rolling Stone, he went deep, listing not simply artists and titles, but also characteristics explaining why he’d picked each one: “Insightful integration of the blues with disparate elements,” “Making a horn sound exactly like someone singing” and so on. Marsalis made it clear that his list was an inventory of “recordings” rather than albums, since so many of the early masterpieces of jazz arrived before the LP era.