CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So the story evolves, or you had that pretty much in your head as you went along, or did you get to a point--because jazz is about improvisation, and you're the master of that--was this a story that was improvised?
WYNTON MARSALIS: Well, no, the story is written down. You know, in jazz all the ensemble parts have to be written. What you do in jazz composition is you try to find a suitable framework to inspire improvisation in the reading of the parts and also when--you have to know when to use improvisation to give that feeling of freedom that's needed. But you also have to balance it with that arrangement because if you just improvise constantly, it can be exciting, but it can also be very boring. It can also lead to chaos.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In the pantheon of jazz pieces, though, jazz subjects, this is very unusual, isn't it? I mean, aren't most jazz subjects about the here and now?
WYNTON MARSALIS: Well, I don't think that's--people write that but not in the history of jazz. Most of it--most music really is connected to memory, as just a characteristic that music has. I don't know--it could be the music of Bach, or it could be Duke Ellington's music, or, like John Coltrain is a good example, I think that's obvious, because he was known to be really in the avant garde or the vanguard of the 1960's. But the sound that he--when he really got his conception, he went all the way back to the spiritual, the sound of the spiritual.
Now he had--when the music--you can have the ancient and the modern at the same time. But the far back you can reach you reach back to something that's just human. And when you get to the--like a whale is a whale. When you get to that human element, it really--it exists outside of time.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now speaking of time, this piece, three hours long, puts it in a class all by itself. I mean, why three hours, and is it going to stay three hours?
WYNTON MARSALIS: Yeah. I tried to cut it, but you know some stuff is just long. And slavery was long. We're still long, you know, in the human sense, it's still long, and it--is long. We all say that in the band, because we're playing it every night, you know, and everybody is like, this is long, and we say it's long. Well, let's try to cut it. But then when I would cut pieces out, they would say, no, don't cut that part out, keep this part in. So it's just one of those things that's long, and we have other pieces that are thirty minutes long and forty-five, but this one is actually three hours and fifteen minutes.