People have taken time out of their day and spent their money to come sit down at a concert. And it's jazz music-it's not easy for them to get to it. I don't want them ever to feel that I'm taking their presence lightly.
What I've learned how to do as I've gotten older is to take all of the information that I have, and push it aside, and try to distill each song into an emotional theme. The hardest thing that I've ever had to learn how to do in playing music is use the sound of my instrument to create an emotional effect.
Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance. It's about a man and a woman. So the pain and the struggle in the blues is that universal pain that comes from having your heart broken. Most blues songs are not about social statements.
My daddy thought - no, he expected - that my brothers and I and our generation would make the world a better place. He was correct in his belief because he had lived in an America of continual social progress, depression followed by prosperity, segregation by integration, and so on.
The main three components are the blues, improvisation - which is some kind of element that people are trying to make it up - and swing, which means even though they're making up music, they're trying to make it up together. It feels great, like you're having a great conversation with somebody.
I grew up in the South, in New Orleans, where guys torture you all the time. So I didn't really grow up on the self-esteem campaign. When you were lousy at something, they told you you were lousy, and they told you how to fix it.
I try to find the core values that are so fundamental that they transcend ethnic identity. That doesn't mean I run from it. I embrace African-American culture and I love it and embrace it, but it is a part of a human identity. So I'm always trying to make a larger human statement.
I never minded giving my opinions. They are just opinions, and I had studied music and I had strong feelings. I was happy for my opinions to join all the other opinions. But you have to be prepared for what comes back, especially if you don't agree with the dominant mythology.
Jazz music is America's past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel, and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves-to-come. It can remind us of where we fit on the time line of human achievement, an ultimate value of art.
There's always the cliche of the choir shouting and clapping. OK, you have to do that, but there's also introspective parts, parts where you just follow someone that's preaching. There's lots of different emotions and moods that a service requires.
Generally, when I wake up in the morning I set out a series of problems for myself and I write them down, and when I'm sleeping, my mind solves the problems. When I wake up in the morning, I have more clarity on the issue.
I feel that for years of teaching in the country and reading criticism in books, I feel like the things most needed in our culture are the understanding of the meanings of our music. We haven't done that good of job teaching our kids what our music means or how we developed our taste in music that reminds us and teaches us who we are.