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Big Mama Shares Lessons from Her Children
For the next few months I will be writing a piece for each of my children on their birthday month. For the month of June, I will be writing about lessons I have learned from Wynton Kelly Stone Guess.
My first-born child and only son was my test run at motherhood. We wanted to do everything right and nurture this child as much as possible. We started by putting headphones on my pregnant belly before birth so that he could enjoy music invitro. Then, naming him Wynton Kelly after a famous jazz pianist, but who knew that his name would connect us to the jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis who has ultimately become young Wynton’s godfather because they were both named after Wynton Kelly.
As young parents we were so excited to bring Wynton home and watch him grow into the amazing young man that he is today. When he was around three we knew he had a special gift for music from God. He would sit with us and listen to music or even sit through an entire jazz concert without any complaints. One day he told us that before he was born, he was in heaven and he spoke to God and that he picked us to be his parents because I was going to be a great mom. Who knew that me, a little girl that rarely left the front porch on Algonquin Parkway in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky growing up, would be blessed with raising a young genius who has traveled the world and currently lives in Lisbon Portugal?
I soon learned and prepared myself that I would not be able to coddle or hold on to this gifted child very long because he has a calling that was bigger than me and bigger than Louisville. Here is Wynton’s story.
We knew he had a gift for music so while in first grade he started taking Suzuki violin lessons along with his other classmates at the Brown School. He brought his rented violin home for practice and was so thoroughly frustrated he would be upset and cry while trying to practice at home. Six weeks into his lessons the violin teacher called us in for a conference and we thought “Oh Lord has he been frustrated and crying at school too?” She informed us that, talented students often get frustrated when they cannot play what they hear. She said Wynton was moving along so fast that she switched him over to take classes with the second graders and that we should get him a tutor and connected us with Keith Cook from the Louisville Orchestra who had a violin program in the California Community Center and in the West End of Louisville at The Blue House. We called Mr. Cook and he met Wynton, heard him play, and made a space for him in his already full program. Wynton loved playing and quickly devoured the Suzuki books and was able to play with the middle & high schoolers at his final concert when he was only 6 years old. We also enrolled him in Suzuki piano program at the University of Louisville where the teacher informed us that Wynton was the student a teacher waits for her whole lifetime.
Fast forward to our move to Jersey City, NJ when my husband started working for Jazz at Lincoln Center when Wynton was in second grade. He thrived in school and with his private piano lessons with Emine Durakoglu who would be his teacher until he graduated high school. Wynton was able to spend time with his dad and some of the best jazz musicians in the world. He took to performing and performed “Rockin Robin” at his elementary school PS.16 for a cultural festival. A parent with the Michael Jackson’s 30 Years of Magic celebration asked us if Wynton could perform this again in New York City for the event in which Michael Jackson would attend. We knew Wynton could play music and had perfect pitch, but little did we know he could also sing! Wynton had a flawless performance in New York City, and I was more nervous than him.
There is an old saying that women raise their daughters but spoil their sons. I am proud to say that with Wynton this is not true. While living in Jersey City, I got very sick. I could barely cook and take care of myself. Young Wynton jumped in with the few cooking lessons that I had given him and would come home from elementary school and make ramen noodles and grilled cheese for his sisters. Eventually my husband had to take a leave of absence from work to take care of me and the children while I was hospitalized. To this day Wynton is known for his culinary skills well beyond instant ramen and grilled cheese. He prides himself on cooking with fresh vegetables and herbs. No matter where Wynton rolls into town he is given free range in the kitchen, and we all wait to see what delicious meal he has in store for us. He is such a caretaker, always looking after his sisters and his friends.
As I fast forward to our move to Montclair, Wynton flourished musically. He went from playing music to writing music. He composed his first original song called “Franks Etouffee” at age 12 written for photographer Frank Stewart. He went from band participant to youth band director at The Jazz Standard. All of band members where older than him but still listened and looked up to Wynton and followed his lead on the band stand. Watching Wynton taught me to be bolder when it came to me stepping into my singing in the church choir. He did not need an example he just paved his own way.
As Wynton continued to be a standout student with his piano teacher Emine Durakoglu. She nourished his talent for classical music and composition. I remember the first time Wynton composed his first classical piece of music while still in high school. He had so many talents who knew that he would gravitate towards classical composition.
After graduating early and a rigorous application process, Wynton was accepted into the composition program at Boston Conservatory at age 17, on a partial scholarship. From then on, I knew he was off to explore the world. Wynton soon made a home for himself in Boston and met some lifetime long friends. I remember when he was accepted into a summer program in Paris, France when he was just 19! He packed himself up and was off to Paris for the summer. This mother was once again more nervous than he was, but I knew I had to let the butterfly out of the cocoon early because he had big things in store for his future.
As if Boston wasn’t far enough away, after graduation Wynton was accepted to The Royal College of Music in London for grad school! There he solidified himself as a classical composer and along with some more lifetime friends he ventured out to co-create a classical music festival in Vale de Cambra, Portugal which is now in its third year.
One thing that I can say about Wynton through all his talents and adventures that he has never lost who he is and where he has come from. At The Royal College of Music, he premiered a piece, called Nayvadius on the RCM Rising Stars concert, based off of the cadence of trap music artist Future’s rap style. Little did they know at Cadogan Hall that they were tapping their feet and rocking their heads to a percussion piece based off the cadence of trap music.
Now living in Lisbon, Portugal and working on his doctorate in history, Wynton has nourished his talent for cooking, poetry, screenwriting, music, photography and even performs with a rock band! Wynton has composed music pieces for jazz musicians Sean Jones and Aaron Diehl and had a short film featured at the New Cinema Film Festival in Lisbon. As the current chief editor for this family Educated Guesses website, he encourages me to keep writing for the Big Mama piece of our website.
No one can understand how much it takes for me to release Wynton to this world. How much faith and prayer it takes from a small town girl like me to watch Wynton’s life go worldwide. I knew I could not coddle the now young man if I wanted him to flourish and be all that God has set out for him to be. As much as I enjoy being Big Mama to so many, I had to release my hands from Wynton at the age of 17 and he has never looked back. Wynton, I pray that your three-year-old self’s conversation with God came true. I hope that I have been a great Mom! Thank you, Wynton, for taking me on this fearless journey of yours around the world.
You can view some of Wynton’s music on the links below:
Raquelaria [Short Film]: