Wynton Marsalis, NU class of didn’t go here

Abbie VanSickle

Jonathan Taylor Thomas isn’t the only celebrity to turn down NU in favor of an East Coast schools.

It has long been a myth among campus music circles that Wynton Marsalis, trumpet player, composer and the first jazz artist to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize — for his work, “Blood on the Fields” — was denied admission to the School of Music.

But it’s time to set the record straight.

Marsalis was accepted into NU in 1979, but turned down the offer.

“He got into Northwestern,” said School of Music dean Bernard Dobroski. “He just chose not to come.”

Dobroski said the trumpet player applied to only two schools — NU and the Juilliard School in New York. NU was one of Marsalis’ top choices because his father, Ellis, a music professor and modern jazz pianist in New Orleans, admired the NU’s band director at the time, John Paynter.

After turning down NU’s offer, Marsalis enrolled in Juilliard, quitting school in 1981 without receiving his degree, said a Juilliard representative.

Marsalis then joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, a renowned band that fostered much of the emerging jazz musicians of the time. His work with the band launched Marsalis into stardom. Since that time he has garnered nine Grammy Awards and been named one of “America’s 25 Most Influential People” by Time magazine. He was also named a “Messenger of Peace” by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan

in March 2001 and heads the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

For current students in the jazz program, whether Marsalis almost came to NU is a moot point.

The jazz program to which Marsalis applied and was accepted was a far cry from the program today, said Pete Wojtowicz, a Music junior majoring in jazz bass. Recent faculty hirings and a strong student body make the NU program as strong as it’s ever been, he said.

Music sophomore Scott Kagawa, a trumpet major studying both jazz and classical performance considers Marsalis a personal hero. But he still doesn’t fault Marsalis’ choice to head for Manhattan.

“At Juilliard, (Marsalis) was right in New York every night,” Kagawa said. “I know right now if you want to go to a jam session (in New York) you can find one. Chicago is similar but being at Northwestern, it’s kind of hard to get down into the city.”

And though he can’t speak for the program of 20 years ago, Kagawa notes that NU’s jazz program is still not as established as a program like that at North Texas University.

But Owens sees that changing. “Jazz in higher education has only been around for half a century,” he said.

“Northwestern has only been offering its jazz masters program for 10 years and it’s only our third year for the official jazz studies major.”

Even still, following in Marsalis’ path takes more than just retracing his academic steps.

“I don’t see myself going along the same way he did. I’m not as much of a god as he is — I’m not a god at all,” Kagawa said. nyou