MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN
Delfeayo Marsalis presents the
Uptown Jazz Orchestra
Troubadour Jazz Records
This unusual CD came for review. I was immediately intrigued by the title as I doubted it to be a campaign item for a current presidential candidate. Listed in liner notes were 23 regular musicians, four guest musicians, four special guests including a narrator and eight members of a vocal theatre music group. There is a photo of the big band on the cover, 15 male musicians and one woman, presumably the vocalist.
The intrigue continues as the music develops. The first selection is the Star Spangled Banner, a melodic arrangement. The last selection is Aaron Coplandís Fanfare for the Common Man, a beautiful arrangement by D. Marsalis. Of the total 14 numbers it’s a mix of big band, smaller group material, some vocal numbers and spoken commentary. Some of the numbers suggested a studio version of a New Orleans jazz marching group. Included are familiar numbers, Skylark and Java, both featuring Mr. Marsalis as trombone soloist. One might be reminded of some of Tommy Dorsey’s lush solos.
No, this was not a plug for a certain presidential candidate. But, it was an intriguing mix of varying kinds of music, executed with care and precision. Liner notes include words to Make America Great Again and Living Free (And Running Wild.)
What follows is a conversation between this reviewer and Delfeayo Marsalis. Words to Make America Great Again are below. I am grateful to Mr. Marsalis for contributions to the music and for a clear explanation of how this CD came to be produced.
The title phrase was used by Presidents Reagan and Clinton before being used by the Trump Campaign. How/why/ when did you choose this as title?
One of the unique aspects of playing with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra is that we create songs spontaneously. We ask the audience to pick two key signatures and the theme for the composition. One night three months ago, someone called out “Make America Great Again!” The tune was nice, so I decided we should record it and include it on the new CD. After hearing the studio version, I realized it needed a narration, so I wrote the lyric and contacted Wendell Pierce. Being the most comprehensive political statement of the songs we recorded, I felt the title best captured the tenor of our country today.
Any apprehension that the casual viewer might think this is a support for Trump?
Yes. Today, in the social media age, people or less likely to peel through layers for discovery. That’s another challenge of jazz music, as well, because there is naturally an abstract quality of instrumental performance. And jazz requires patience, intellectual and emotional commitment from listeners. So, the title is challenging, but it best represents my sense of humor and political awareness.
Your own private joke?
I’m not sure how private it is, but it certainly puts the audience on notice that something is going on!
On first listening, this recording seems, to me, a mix of big band, New Orleans style marching band music, vocals suggest some musical theatre. Tell me your concept for this musical gumbo of styles?
Just like all humans can be traced back through the DNA strain to Africa, all music is related. I like to include as many styles of music as possible in every performance and recording, so that’s an accurate assessment. I’m sure there’s classical music, James Brown and others in there, too.
Who composed the lyrics to Back to Africa and Living Free (And Running Wild)? I see you’ve credited Brice Miller and Naydja Cojoe, respectively, for Rt. Foot Forward and Living Free.
I wrote the lyrics for BTA and LFRW. Naydja wrote the bridge to LFRW and Dee-1 wrote all of the rap (except for my “Hundreds of years ‘fore Columbus sailed there were native folks without tears on a trail.”)
There’s an impressive list of players and special guests. Riff a bit about how/why these players were chosen. Presumably your regulars are your local band plus the guests.
There is a uniqueness about New Orleans music that is rooted in joy and celebration with an understanding of pathos. I felt it was important to hire New Orleans musicians or individuals who have lived and performed there for many years. We couldn’t effectively play the brass band music without that indigenous New Orleans understanding. Branford, given his extensive history improvising in different genres, always makes good decisions as a soloist, so I always try to keep him involved. The cohesiveness of the band in collective improvisation is unique to New Orleans. There are a number of jazz orchestras that can play technically brilliant, read music and sound good, but no other that plays the New Orleans sound to perfection like our Uptown Jazz Orchestra.
Talk about the narrator, Wendell Pierce.
Wendell and I attended high school together and he’s one of three New Orleanians accepted into the Juilliard School of Drama. His main acting roles were on The Wire and Treme, but I knew he would accurately capture the frustration that all adult black males feel about Americans abusing or ignoring their responsibility to the nation. I originally wanted a white man to deliver it, but there is a certain irony and resolve that is unique to the Negro experience in the text. Wendell understood exactly what it was and how to accurately capture it.
Say a few words about the recording location, Trinity Church in New Orleans.
When Branford and Wynton made the shift from small studios to larger ones back in the ’80s, it was at my suggestion. Not long after that, more musicians were following suit. Without getting too technical, the unique nature of the sound Patrick Smith and I are known for capturing has to do with the acoustic nature of live instruments playing together in one space. The larger the space, the greater the potential to capture the full harmonic range instruments individually and collectively. Electronic instruments sound artificial because there are approximations of living things. They can sound good, but not like the real thing. That said, I knew that Trinity Church would allow us to capture the true instrument sounds with clarity and natural ambience. My one regret is recording digital instead of analog, which always gives the sound quality more of the needed fat rump!
Was this part of their Artist Series?
Was it a concert setting or dedicated recording session?
This was a dedicated recording session.
I note that you credit various persons for mixing and David Farrell for mastering. Why the different assignments?
Well, we submitted the credits before everything was finished, so it all changed. In the end, I had to mix more than I wanted to because the other engineers had other commitments. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to mix the way that I do, which is why I don’t record as much as I used to. We split up the songs so that whoever was available could work on them, they’d send me the mixes and I’d request certain changes, etc. In the end, we were all aiming to accomplish the same goal.
Lyrics to Make America Great Again by Delfeayo Marsalis
Make America Great Again
Ah, yes, Make America Great Again!
While this catchy slogan may serve as a poignantly potent political phrase is it, in practical terms, a pragmatic proposition in the real world today? I submit, if you please, Certainly not!
Now, there will always be those of us who long for “the good old days,” either because we weren’t there or we’ve simply forgotten what those days were actually like.
Times are steadily changing and we have adjusted since 1492 with aplomb! That’s right, here in America we accept the good with the bad, the happy with sad, the rain with the sun and the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green and Tea Parties all the same.
We may not agree with what you have to say, but we let you voice your opinion anyway.
A Melting Pot of diversity fighting a juggernaut of adversity!
Now, you’ve got to admit, eight score and seven years ago, the Confederates had a strong business model. Guaranteed riches from an ill-got industry, mostly realized on the backs of African immigrants, the enslavement of whom has been designated, regulated and propagated as a natural birthright! Lo thus, arose our great nation’s preeminent dilemma; firmly lodged in that most peculiar of institutions. What to do, what to do?
Rather than uphold the basic tenets of our Constitution, these good old boys waged war against our United States of America without a good back-up plan!
To my eye, it’s a curious sight to see that Rebel flag raised proudly next to our Stars and Stripes, because that particular flag represents not only Southern pride, but also anti-American sentiment. It represents the longing for American freedom without the sacrifice of responsibility that accompanies it! Didn’t they know? Freedom ain’t free!
Good Old Southern Boy, Form a more perfect Union, blah, blah, blah. We got the right to this land of the free, it’s our manifest destiny. How? Man, we are making entirely too much money off this hustle to just let this thing go on principle. Who are you kidding?
Through the Middle Passage and Trail of Tears, 10 wars,
Eight Recessions, A Great Depression, Women’s Suffrage, Whites and Colored Only, South moving North and East moving West, landing on the moon, Lewis and Clark to our National Parks! I am American, protecting our American dream by any means necessary. United we stand.
Making America Great again! Ha-ha-ha!