x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Desert Island Books: Wynton Marsalis

The jazz maestro Wynton Marsalis shares his desert island book choices, with Tahira Yaqoob.

Books, says the jazz maestro Wynton Marsalis, are like a complex piece of music.

"They are both laid out long-wise, have a graphic representation of ideas, a perceivable form that unfolds in time, repetitious themes but they also feature an internal development of characters and both draw on the multiplicity of relationships," he says.

An accomplished trumpet player, composer and music teacher, Marsalis, 50, has been playing traditional jazz for more than three decades. Born into a family of New Orleans jazz musicians, he was given his first trumpet at the age of 6. He has since won nine Grammy Awards and was presented with the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997 for his oratorio Blood on the Fields.

In 1987, Marsalis founded Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, a performing arts venue with a concert hall and facilities to teach a love of the music to schoolchildren from a young age. He still holds the post of artistic director and tours the world to share his passion for jazz, including playing at a sold-out performance in November last year in Muscat's new opera house.

This spring, he will inaugurate a branch of Jazz at Lincoln Center as a year-round music club in the new St Regis Hotel in Doha, the first venue of its kind outside the United States. He shares his Desert Island Books with Tahira Yaqoob.


The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah

I grew up in a southern town outside New Orleans and they had this book in the library. I got it when I was 9 and it was about this dervish with a certain sense of humour. I've always loved this book and told the stories to my kids. They would keep saying: "Tell us one about Mulla Nasrudin but say it with your mouth", meaning they would not want me to read it, they wanted me to tell them the stories, so I would make up some of it.


The Collected Poems of WB Yeats

I read Yeats's poems to the brothers I ride with. I drive everywhere with the same guys – the great Frank Stewart, an unbelievable photographer, and the extraordinary Boss Bragg, a Dallas Cowboys fan. It will be 1 or 2am and I'll be reading William Butler Yeats to them.They love it. There are many great poems but my favourites are The Wild Old Wicked Man as it has great symbolism, Under Ben Bulben about the history of art and Sailing to Byzantium. It has the line "An aged man is but a paltry thing/A tattered coat upon a stick" - that is so lyrical.


Joseph And His Brothers by Thomas Mann

It is really heavy, turgid, Germanic writing but it has so much insight into human beings. This person is a slave bowed down and in one paragraph as the wife passes him, he makes this observation about how it's funny that something you could pass as being something completely inconsequential could one day be the centre of your life. My mentor, [the author and jazz critic] Albert Murray, gave it to me and said: "There are a lot of things here you need to know - read it, then come back here and be prepared to discuss it". It took me about two years to read it as it is so long.


The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

It's kind of a no-brainer and I know people scoff at it but I love the directness and simplicity of it, it is just a story someone would tell. To go from Thomas Mann with all that detail to the most basic insight and short sentences - I love that about Hemingway.


Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I played at Ralph's funeral and discussed his book with him many times. Knowing the author does not make a difference when you read it but when you discuss their book with them, you have a deeper insight into what they were doing, especially with someone as soulful as him. There are so many great moments in this book. I particularly like the last line: "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?"


The Iliad by Homer

Homer's The Iliad is like the war of the worlds; I love the extreme nature of it, the range of the characters; the fact that Achilles, despite being the greatest warrior, is also like he is; I love the old man Priam and that Hector ran when Achilles was upon him. He is facing the greatest battle outside the wall and when they are 200 yards apart, he turns around and runs. There is something so human in that. I love why they started fighting, because someone who didn't fight took someone else's woman and the stupidity of Agamemnon. There is so much in there to like. Mostly I like the idea of storytelling around a campfire.


John Henry by Roark Bradford

The myth of [the American folk hero] John Henry is a tale of how some things are more important than living. He made the choice to sacrifice his life so as not to be beaten by a steam drill and in the annals of history, he did not lose. The steam drill never beat John Henry. There is something of the indomitable spirit of man about that.