Wynton Marsalis, America's musical ambassador

Morley Safer goes on the road with the musician and Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra

This story was first published Jan. 2, 2011. It was updated on June 20, 2011.

He is an American master: Wynton Marsalis. At age 49, he is arguably the best known living jazz artist and leader of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, probably the best big band at work today.

As we reported last January, they're on the road constantly, bringing America's most distinctive art form to the world, most recently to London, Berlin and Havana.

"60 Minutes" and correspondent Morley Safer were lucky enough to tag along - a joyous assignment, if there ever was one, trying to get a sense of this band of brothers, their music and their effect as unofficial ambassadors.

Marsalis is the leader of the band but he's buried in the back row.

"It's interesting. When you guys take the stage, you're never front and center," Safer pointed out.

"No. I play fourth trumpet. That's my role. I like it. I'm comfortable playin' in the trumpet section. It started because I can't really conduct. I'm not a good conductor," Marsalis explained.

He tried, until a brave member of the band delivered the verdict. "Every time I would start conducting, if I would mess something up, he would look down at his music and go (thumb over shoulder). That meant 'Go get back in the trumpet section,'" Marsalis remembered.

Two legends on the road: Murrow and Armstrong
Rare 1950s footage of newsman Edward R. Murrow traveling around the world with jazz icon Louis Armstrong.

And there Marsalis stays, storming his way through some of the most difficult, hair-raising music in the jazz repertoire.

"I like pressure. I like that. I like the challenge. I don't have a problem with it at all. I like the feeling of nervousness. I like the feeling that something counts. And I like to be tested," he told Safer.

Soloing certain tunes, a bass player said many years ago, is like trying to change the fan belt on your car with the engine running.

"Man, when you're playing, and you're playing with other people, it's such a combination of emotion, it's so intense. And when you make a tender statement or something's real sweet and you just caress a note that takes more intensity. It's powerful," Marsalis said.

It's hard to believe the boy wonder from New Orleans, who has been startling both jazz and classical audiences since his teens, is now pushing 50. He has won nine Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize for music.

Extra: Universal language of music
Extra: Different countries, different audiences
Extra: Marsalis' musical "insanity"
Extra: Marsalis on Havana and New Orleans
Jazz at Lincoln Center Tour

And he has logged more miles around the world than your average secretary of state.

"You've spent 30 years since you were a teenager in the music business. That makes you, in a certain way, a very young elder statesman," Safer remarked.

"I don't feel like that. I mean, they will tease me, called me an old man since I was in my late 20s," Marsalis said.

It was his old man, Ellis, a pianist, a New Orleans legend, who passed the jazz gene on to Wynton and three of his five brothers.

Marsalis himself, who has never married, has four children.

Produced by David Browning and Diane Beasley. Edited by Matt Danowski

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