The Magic Hour (Blue Note)

Wynton Marsalis

Released March 9, 2004

New York Times Best Jazz Albums of 2004



Jazz is the music of amen; of yes, yes, yes; of I hear you!, of That’s what I’m talking about!, of Let’s get to the grits, of I know a place better than this, of All right now! It began in a revolutionary way and has remained revolutionary. The very idea is still astounding. A team of musicians, with very little written music and depending on very little repetition, can create something right on the spot. Fresh. Pull it out of the air, polishing it as it arrives.

Jazz is also the music of hope because it proves that we can count on the human being, we can trust in our collaborators to make the best decision right now and in almost every tomorrow. Jazz means we can improvise with individuality and empathy, we can be ourselves while paying attention to others and by counting on them. We can play. In our playing we can prove that the ultimate human solution is always some kind of elevated creation. So jazz challenges what we mean in an era so dominated by special effects because jazz musicians understand that, when all the hot air of talking is done, the truest special effect in the arts is always the human being. The human being is the one who understands and who wants to be understood. Therefore, jazz, so dependent on the flesh and blood special effect, the deeply human, always speaks across every barrier. Jazz accepts no divisions in the realm of understanding. It makes the moment better because, if the moment is an empty bag, jazz fills it with the gifts of feeling and artistry, offered to all, received by any.

Wynton Marsalis understands this well because the human drive at the center of jazz is what has made him the kind of musician that he is. He has learned from the masters who have affirmed the tradition and who, as men and women of wisdom, have offered him whatever they knew because they understood that the ongoing job of the veterans is to provide the young with the information necessary to reaffirm the highest achievements of the old and of their predecessors, the titans that added something special to the world.

Now that he is a veteran player himself, a celebrated bandleader, and an internationally revered composer, who has written for everything from trumpet alone to combined jazz and symphony orchestras, Marsalis is no longer reaffirming his art, he is affirming it with a broad scope of individuality. He is also nurturing those who are presently working at being able to affirm the art of jazz and to pass on to those below them what they have learned from the masters of this time. That is how it works and how it has always worked. There is no generation gap because, as Picasso said, “If art…cannot always live in the present, it must not be considered at all.” In other words, if it was ever truly good and alive, it is always truly good and always alive.

Essentially, this one right here is a jazz party record, the first to take the listener into Marsalis after dark, in his apartment, with friends from the world over and big fun going on. That is to say, that if you are ever at one of those Marsalis parties in which the groove is raising one foot up to the stars while the other is standing deep down in the ground, when the New Orleans cuisine is unforgettable, and one nicknamed “the Rilla,” is either already there or on the way to becoming drunk and incomprehensible, you might hear these kinds of tunes. Some are extremely soulful, some are funny, some are lyrical and some are played just because nobody cares about anything other than swinging and having a good time.

The young men on this recording have been coming to see and talk with Marsalis since they were kids. Now they are grown up and sound like it. Ali Jackson, says Marsalis, “has a supremely clear sound on his drums. The great drummer Oliver Jackson was his uncle and he knows about every aspect of playing jazz drums, every aspect. He’s from Detroit and he can also play that New Orleans groove better than anyone I’ve ever heard who wasn’t from the Crescent City.” Of the young bassist, the leader says, “Carlos came to every Blood on the Fields rehearsal back in 1994, when he was in high school. Carlos is always working because he can move back and forth from Latin grooves to hard swing with complete authority. Listen to that thick, resonating bass sound he gets. Seriously real and soulful. No amp.” The virtuoso pianist impresses him because, “Eric already has a totally recognizable sound and he can do things in the time that no one else can. I’ve been knowing him since he was a boy and I have no idea how many times he’s been over my house. It’s great to play with him now, a thrill.”

Diane Reeves and Bobby McFerrin are at the narrow peaks of their professions and need no more introduction than their names. They are also old buddies of Marsalis’s who, as they say, “go back.” Like everybody else, the singers bring the best that they’ve got, heavy soul, heavy style. Look out now.

For those who would know, the title track focuses– sweeping in its language from avant garde to down home–on a family moment. In this instance, we arrive when children are resisting going to sleep. They are running around and making noise in an attempt to cram all of the possible happiness into those last minutes before, as ordered, they must become horizontal and still until the next morning.

The time of sleep arrives through a process. It begins with calming the children down, getting them into pajamas, and making sure their teeth brushed. As usual, they pretend as long as they can that they either didn’t understand what was asked of them or that, if they are given just one more minute, they can finish what they are doing and, then, get right to bed. When they can no longer hold off getting ready for bed, they face the blues of playtime ending and begin thinking of a way to get that blues off of them.

Once the parents get them between the sheets and put the pillows in place, the children come up with a solution to the blues. The parents will have to become storytellers. They have to entertain the children with one kind of fantastic tale after another until a smooth story about something sweet and beautiful is delivered in both a soft voice and enough whispers to take the kids over the brim into that place where sleep has been waiting for them.
At this victorious point, that happiness rises up from the world of the children and inhabits the parents. It sneaks up on them but never catches them off guard because the parents have been waiting for that special happiness. In the virgin quiet of the night, their time has arrived. A joy no child ever experiences is upon them. It is the joy of romance. It is another bedtime story, one of the fairy tales that adults love to hear over and over, and to play their parts in whenever they get a chance, solely because romance provides the mask of magic that allows men and women to enter a sweltering and tender dreamland while wide awake. Mmm hm.

Stanley Crouch

Track Listing:

1. Feeling of Jazz (Wynton Marsalis) 07:02

2. You and Me (Wynton Marsalis) 04:50

3. Free to Be (Wynton Marsalis) 08:39

4. Baby, I Love You (Wynton Marsalis / Bobby McFerrin) 05:20

5. Big Fat Hen (Wynton Marsalis) 07:30

6. Skipping (Wynton Marsalis) 08:01

7. Sophie Rose-Rosalee (Wynton Marsalis) 06:47

8. The Magic Hour (Wynton Marsalis) 13:15


Wynton Marsalis: trumpet

Eric Lewis: piano

Carlos Henriquez: bass

Ali Jackson: drums

Bobby McFerrin: vocal (4)

Dianne Reeves: vocal (1)

Recorded: June 6 & 7, 2003, at RIGHT TRACK STUDIOS, NYC, by Patrick Smith

Produced by Delfeayo Marsalis

Mixed by Patrick Smith

Assistant Mixing Engineer: Daniel Kresco

Mastering Engineer: Daryl Dickerson

Production Coordinators: Isobel Allen-Floyd, Genevieve Stewart & Dennis Jeter

Creative director: Gordon H. Jee

Art direction: Burton Yount & Rachel Salomon

Illustrations by: Rachel Salomon

Package design: Burton Yount

Product manager: Shanieka D. Brooks


Wynton Marsalis’ The Magic Hour arrived on March 9, 2004 as that sweetest of swinging homecomings – like time spent laughing with old friends on a front porch.

We have Marsalis returning belatedly to small-band work, where he once sparked the kind of mainstream interest in a jazz trumpeter enjoyed long ago by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. We have Marsalis again beside music industry veteran Bruce Lundvall, who signed Wynton to his very first record deal in 1980.

We have Marsalis finally returning to the driving rhythms and lyrical whimsy that marked his best early work, before he won Pulitzers and made records with 199 other musicians. Really: One hundred and 99 other folks. That was “All Rise,” an extended classical composition from 2002 for big band, gospel choir and symphony orchestra.

“‘All Rise’ was such a huge piece,” Marsalis said back then. “I wanted to produce my next recording with a smaller group. I wanted to restate my basic love of jazz music in a quartet format.”

After 20 years on Columbia, Lundvall lured Marsalis to the Blue Note label, a bastion of earthy joy and fiery brilliance in the 1950s and ’60s. In keeping, the trumpeter presented himself not as concert master or Ellingtonian composer, but as the impish youngster we sometimes saw when Bruce Lundvall originally inked him.

In between, Wynton Marsalis occasionally calcified into a prematurely aged figure, the 30-year-old grousing about how things had gone so wrong in music. He hated the avant-garde movement of jazz after 1965, despised 1970s fusion. But in Marsalis’ honorable quest to save the older jazz that he so clearly loved, he sometimes came off as a shrill and humorless pitchman – and a suddenly retrograde performer.

The truth is, Wynton Marsalis only resembled Miles Davis through imitation. (Well, he was also named after Davis’ one-time pianist, Wynton Kelly.) Marsalis’ legacy in jazz more closely resembles that of Freddie Hubbard, a talented musician who popularized the more challenging work of others.

So The Magic Hour, in the end, powerfully illustrated that Marsalis was still not the innovator he hoped to be. That role was firmly grasped here in the embryonic yet powerful pianistic genius of Eric Lewis. But it was great to hear Marsalis let fly with refreshing abandon on bright, light tunes like “Big Fat Hen.”

Meanwhile, on “Free to Be,” he exhaled the expected quirky Miles-ish riff, but – more thrillingly – also ripped through dizzying Gillespie-inspired runs. And in so doing, Marsalis – with his tie loosened – actually gained the stature he once so clearly craved. This free-wheeling effort, more than any of his other more recent albums at the time, underscored just what Marsalis’ old-school prowess could actually add to the modern jazz landscape.

That’s because a galloping joy like The Magic Hour acknowledged finally that this music is more than classroom mythology – more than a still photograph of smoky ringlets rising above long-dead horn players as they wheeze their sorrows. No, the old stuff wasn’t just a standup bass with an uptight attitude. It was funky and fun, too – something that might speak to future generations.

And that was never more so than at Blue Note – the place where we once chowed down with Jimmy Smith back at the Chicken Shack. Where Jackie McLean was once “Swing, Swang, Swingin.’” That same sense of head-wagging jubilation was powerfully recalled both on “Shipping” – with its shimmering imagery of children at play – and in this Marsalis album’s very name.

“For kids,” Marsalis added, “the magic hour is the one hour before they go to bed. For parents, it’s the one hour after the kids go to sleep.” For jazz fans, it’s that first hour spent with this unjustly forgotten 2004 release and a reborn Wynton Marsalis.

Jimmy Nelson (Some Thing Else!)