In addition to his long career as one of modern jazz's finest trumpet blowers and composers, Wynton Marsalis has waged a sort of one-man PR campaign for jazz education. He extols the virtues of the music as a current and lively art with a rich history - as opposed to a genre whose best days and practitioners are behind - in all sorts of settings both musical and academic. In the wide-ranging Moving to Higher Ground, Marsalis argues that jazz can also teach life lessons based on his own experiences as well as those of a who's who of jazz giants, many known by just one name: Bird, Monk, Pops, Prez, Duke, Miles, Dizzy, and Coltrane. It's a quick read that also touches on race relations, traditions, and the relation of jazz to other musical forms ("The biggest mistake a jazz musician can make," Marsalis argues, "is to run from the blues."). He also takes the reader into the seemingly arcane and inscrutable ways of the jazz musician, whose world is rife with terms like "cutting session," "vamp," and "head chart."
Marsalis is also not afraid to spout his current opinions (don't ask about his view of Miles Davis as a rock sell-out), or revise those that have evolved since his Angry Young Black Man days.
As an overall philosophy for life-coaching, Rocks Off is not convinced that jazz can help someone any more than Buddhism, Sigmund Freud or Dr. Phil. But when it comes to aurally reaching a spiritual level, there are few more moving churches to attend. And not just on Sundays.
Random House, $16, 208 pp.
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