Miles Davis went on the record calling him unoriginal as well as rejecting him onstage, and acclaimed albeit temperamental pianist Keith Jarrett, in a 1997 New York Times interview, said, "I've never heard anything Wynton played sound like it meant anything at all. Wynton has no voice and no presence. His music sounds like a talented high-school trumpet player to me.” Why the harshness?
Part of the reason select peers have handled him with a heavy hand may lay in the fact that Marsalis openly challenges improvisation, which to many a jazz player, is the very cornerstone of jazz and yet to many a non-jazz fan, irritating noise. In a 2003 article in The Guardian, he goes against his industry's grain, asking, “why is jazz the only art form that has no meaning, no pedagogy? How am I going to teach my students? If whatever you're playing, that's jazz, how are you going to get better?”
Jazz critic and syndicated columnist Stanley Crouch, as quoted in a 2003 The Atlantic piece on the subject of Marsalis, also has a theory, "I think a lot of the criticism of Wynton's music is based upon a hostility toward him. Marsalis, any way the critics look at him, is superior to them. He's a greater musician than any of them are writers. He's a good-looking guy. He has access to and has had access to a far higher quality of female than any of them could ever imagine. He doesn't look up to them, and that's a problem."
Regardless of who or what you agree with, fans of the New Orleans native can look forward to Marsalis leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival on June 28, 2013 at 7 p.m. at Place des Arts' Maison symphonique de Montréal. Admission. $78.49 to $95.50. Buy tickets.