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Fame & Fortune
Wynton Marsalis
Jazz musician and multiple Grammy winner says his most extravagant purchase is his kids' education.
Celebrity interview

Fame & Fortune: Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis just might be the busiest man in music. Winner of nine Grammy awards and a Pulitzer Prize; the only man to win jazz and classical Grammys in the same year (a feat he accomplished twice); and the only artist ever to win Grammys five years in a row, Marsalis balances a seemingly never-ending touring and composing schedule with his duties as the founding artistic director for New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center, which runs more than 3,000 events per season at its Columbus Circle complex in Manhattan and on the road.

But in the midst of all this, Marsalis still finds time for his own pet projects. His latest surprisingly paired him with country legend Willie Nelson for an album called "Two Men with the Blues," which debuted in July at No. 20 on the Billboard charts, making it the highest charting album of Marsalis' career.

Bankrate: So how did this project with Willie come together?

Wynton Marsalis: We played together at a benefit for the Jazz at Lincoln Center education program, and we enjoyed playing with each other so much that we said we should do a concert. It was so much fun playing with him. He's such a great musician, with such good reflexes and understanding and phrasing, that we had a good time playing.

Bankrate: Your music and his could be seen as pretty different.

Wynton Marsalis: I'm from New Orleans. So the songs we play like "Caldonia," "Bright Lights Big City," "Lay Down My Burden," I grew up playing those songs. Early funk was related to R&B, church music, gospel music, and if you're from New Orleans, you also play a lot of hymns and things like that in parades -- traditional music.

One of the things I've always stressed for students of jazz is the importance of knowing roots music, mainly the blues and church music. I can't tell you how many times I've suggested to musicians to get "The Bristol Sessions" -- Anglo-American folk music. It's a lot of different types of music: Appalachian, country, hillbilly. It's folk music in the Anglo-American tradition. It's essential for musicians to know that. Nowadays, the tendency is to separate jazz musicians from the rest of the musicians in roots music, but the best jazz musicians play roots music. Willie will sing "Stardust." People may think of him as country, but he's in the mainstream of American music.

Bankrate: So would you say that jazz and country are more closely related than people might think?

Wynton Marsalis: Listen to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Everything is related to jazz, because jazz musicians invented the rhythm section. So if music has a rhythm section in it, it's related to jazz. And in all of our music, the best American music, the common denominator is the blues.

Bankrate: Do you enjoy the business end of the music business?

Wynton Marsalis: Yeah, I enjoy all aspects of organization. I like people. I don't mind raising money. Whatever we have to do, I don't have a problem with it. It's been an honor for me to meet all the people I've been able to meet. I've learned a lot in that position that I would not have learned had I just played, or not had to deal with different elements, or different types of people.

Next: "I never really buy anything for myself."
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