Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Journalist David Hajdu on Moonlighting as a Songwriter

Daring, delusion and dilettantism

David Hajdu, Fred Hersch, Jo Lawry and Michael Winther (from left) in the studio

About a dozen years ago, in the fall of 2002, I was doing interviews with Wynton Marsalis for an article I had been assigned to write for The Atlantic-or trying to do interviews with him. Marsalis and I had never connected in the quasi-chummy way that music journalists and musicians sometimes do, united by mutual interests and enthusiasms, despite the fact that he and I shared a fascination with Duke Ellington. (I had written a biography of Ellington’s longtime collaborator, Billy Strayhorn, and was president of the Duke Ellington Society at the time.) For a profile commissioned at a length of 12,000 words, Marsalis had agreed to meet me for 60 minutes, over lunch at a Chinese restaurant, with the head of publicity for Jazz at Lincoln Center present.

“My relationship with the jazz critics has never been good,” Marsalis told me. Most critics failed to appreciate him, Marsalis said, because “they don’t understand the music the way a musician does. Critics aren’t musicians, they’re critics.” I proceeded with my research for the article, interviewing dozens of people who knew and worked with Marsalis, while also observing him from a short distance as he led the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in rehearsals and performances.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published