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The Importance of the Arts in Our Civic Lives: A Message From Wynton Marsalis on the Occasion of Honoring Entergy at the ArtsWestchester Gala

Wynton Marsalis (photo credit: Joe Martinez)
Wynton Marsalis (photo credit: Joe Martinez)

A Message From Wynton Marsalis

I’m Wynton Marsalis, the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and I’m so pleased to send this message in celebration of my great friends at Entergy as they are being honored this evening for their twenty-five year commitment to supporting ArtsWestchester. They are fantastic. I love them so much and they have such soul and feeling. Jazz at Lincoln Center has a very long and special history with Entergy. They have supported our concerts, educational programs and our community events for almost 20 years. The time passes so quickly. They understand at a very, very, deep level the importance of the arts in our civic lives and also the importance of the arts to us as individuals, the arts and our humanity and the true spirit of community.

Remembering Hurricane Katrina

I can remember it like it was just yesterday, when we were in the midst of another major national catastrophe that impacted so many of our citizens. I’m talking about Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Everybody felt it. My hometown of New Orleans was devastated and those of us beyond the Delta and all over the country really felt the impact of losing a major American city in this way. People opened their hearts to us, citizens did, but I have to say Entergy was one of the very first companies to join us at Jazz at Lincoln Center rallying to do something for the people and to give them some financial and spiritual support during this terrible time and it will never be forgotten. They did so much to help us uplift the community of artists.

The Pandemic: Another Pivotal Moment

Now, the pandemic… You know the jazz community has been hit so hard. Musicians can’t tour, can’t perform…Jazz clubs, which always struggle, are really in danger of going under completely. The entire performing arts are struggling. But jazz…we’re having a very, very, hard time. We find ourselves at another pivotal moment in time, where our commitment to our own beliefs, and our responsibility to those beliefs and to one another, is greatly, greatly, challenged.

A Time That Requires Solutions

 We`re facing all kinds of political corruption. We’re facing racial and social unrest… and that’s added to the problems that we have with the pandemic, and all of our challenges have just simply become too large for us to turn away. This is a time that requires our attention, our energy, our expertise. It is a time that requires solutions to so many problems that those solutions will not come from one place. It has to come from all of us. It’s a time for participation and that’s why it is also a time for the arts. Not just on the individual level, but also on the community level. We have to all be a part of this. You know jazz music is a music that’s inescapably hopeful and it’s infused with the ability to uplift, to inspire, to energize and to unite. Its fundamentals provide a blueprint to help us combat the prejudice and racial injustice that continues to haunt our nation and to stain our soul.

Jazz: A History of People Coming Together

Jazz was one of the first aspects of American social life to be purposefully integrated in the 20th century, with Benny Goodman and the fantastic concert that he did in Chicago in the mid-1930s.  Jazz has a history of people coming together. It harmonizes the interests of individuals and the collective, it underscores the importance of collaboration and teamwork, but it also has what is called “the Blues,” which tells us: while things may be bad, let’s look squarely at them and understand that we can use our will to rise above our difficulties, no matter what they may be. 

The Blues, in a strange way, is like a vaccine, you give yourself a little bit of what’s coming and it helps you to fend off the real thing when it comes along. So I know we’re looking for a vaccine right at this time for this pandemic, but our eternal life and our spiritual life and those things that cannot be touched by disease, always needs to be nourished and the blues aesthetic is something that has healed the world for over a hundred years. 

We Can Improvise and Be Creative

Jazz music also symbolizes the global effort to overcome class exploitation. It insists on optimism in the face of overwhelming adversity and it is profoundly relevant for these current times. We’re fractured and we’re uncertain, but jazz is certain. It tells us that we can come together and we can improvise and be creative.  That we can be technically excellent and virtuous, and come up with something that only we can come up with and that is defined in many ways.

Safeguarding the Arts 

I want to again send my deepest, most heartfelt congratulations to Entergy and this evening’s other honorees for their commitment to stewarding and safeguarding the arts through ArtsWestchester.

To my longtime friends at Entergy, you are leaders and we recognize your legacy of arts support and the 20-plus-year example of being the epitome of a corporate citizen in New York City and all around this country. We are inspired by your work, your great deeds. We are inspired by you and we will never forget and we love you. Thank you.

A version of this article first appeared in the December-January issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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