Vision & Justice: Wynton Marsalis on Frank Stewart

Collectors: The Jazz Musicians

For the “Vision & Justice” issue of Aperture, Wynton Marsalis, Ingrid Monson, Alicia Hall Moran, Jason Moran, and Somi reflect on photographs that represent moments in their lives. Here, Marsalis responds to Frank Stewart’s Calling the Indians Out.

Frank Stewart, Calling the Indians Out, 1976 Courtesy the artist

Frank Stewart, Calling the Indians Out, 1976. Courtesy the artist

As dreams of previous generations erode, there is nothing more uplifting than the clear vision of a veteran free of bitterness. That’s why I love the work of Frank Stewart. His vigilant eye is trained on counternarrative realities that run deeper than race, gender, class, or even oppression itself.

Frank loves black folks, but he focuses on timeless HUMAN fundamentals that only increase in value and intensity with time. He is a jazzman with a camera. Improvisational, empathetic, and accurate, all kinds of folks trust him and let him in.

In the New Orleans of my youth, if someone agreed with you they would say, “I hear you.” If it was deeper than that, they would say, “I FEEL you.” When I look at this photo, I’m there with ’em, can feel ’em bringing that spirit down, still.

The picture is titled Calling the Indians Out. That means to proclaim your identity, to evoke ancestors, to prepare the way for the Big Chief on Mardi Gras Day, and above all else to combat the demons of life with a razor-sharp artistry. And here they are on a typical Crescent City street beating out that three-beat rhythm on those tambourines. Everybody chanting “Two Way Pocky Way,” and then each takes a turn inventing some rhymed couplets, a communal art as old as Dan Tucker. I come from the bottom of the Lower 9, look the devil in his face and say I don’t mind dyin’. Here they are gathered in that unforced circle, and they clap and dance … and I bet somebody we don’t see is hitting a cowbell or drum. And I hope you’re not in a hurry, because we’re gonna be here until it feels right. Ain’t nobody in a hurry.

If you’ve had a bad time for a few centuries, having a great time for a few hours could easily be a matter of life or death.

Wynton Marsalis is a trumpeter, composer, teacher, music educator, and Artistic and Managing Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

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