Wynton on CBS: the Artist as Cultural Correspondent

Wynton Marsalis has in one swoop become the world’s most prominent jazz journalist. The 50-year-old trumpeter, composer, bandleader, winner of multiple Grammys in multiple categories, author of several books on jazz (all but one co-written), artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, world-traveling ambassador of the American experience, holder of uncountable awards, degrees and honors, an esteemed lecturer and educator, is the CBS network’s new cultural correspondent.

Marsalis has previously been a frequent guest on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes. His first broadcast as cultural correspondent is scheduled for January 16, 2012 — the Monday celebration of the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is scant precedence for an artist of Marsalis’s stature to sign on with a media giant such as CBS in the capacity of news commentator. The late Dr. Billy Taylor (who died Dec. 28, 2010) is the only jazz musician who has served in a similar role, first in 1958 as musical director of the NBC tv series The Subject Is Jazz (produced by the then-new National Educational Television
network), and after 1981 as an on-air correspondent of CBS News.

Leonard Bernstein, arguably Wynton’s most comparable predecessor as an acclaimed creator/performer/activist/celebrity with strong connection to Lincoln Center, famously produced television lectures for the CBS show Omnibus, starting in 1954 (the program later transferred to ABC and NBC), and Young Peoples’ Concerts for CBS — but these were not news shows. Since the 1950s, jazz musicians have sometimes hosted televised performance shows — think Eddie Condon to David Sanborn. But taking the role of journalist, critic or commentator is something else.

Wynton Marsalis has been seen and heard analyzing music and airing his opinions on Ken Burns’ Jazz, among other documentaries. He may be a valuable cultural correspondent by virtue of who he is and what he knows more than for any investigative activities or neutral perspective. But then, news reporting and opinion sans agenda are not crucial to broadcast news.


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  1. says

    Mr. Marsalis is such a divisive person within the jazz world; some hate him, some love him. Personally, I try to treat him like actors and actresses who’s work I love, but who’s politicking or religious proselytizing I abhor; that is, appreciate the work and forget the rest. No matter if you like Wynton or not, the publicity from this can only be good for jazz. Sure, there might be an emphasis on straight-ahead or New Orleans style jazz, but it will still present another avenue for people to find the music we all love. And once they are immersed, the door to all different sub-genres will be open for them to explore. Hopefully the focus of his work at CBS remains on jazz, specifically the great wealth of talent out there making music today. His fame and creditability with the masses combined with a high profile sounding board like 60 Minutes, should open the wonderful world of jazz to neophyte listeners.