Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had more than music on his mind when he first met the patrician-looking opera star Kathleen Battle during rehearsals for Bach’s Cantata No. 51 at Lincoln Center in 1984. ”I thought, ‘Damn, she sure is fine! Maybe she’ll give me her phone number.”’
He ended up getting something a bit different. Battle and Marsalis are the hottest pair on the classical charts with Baroque Duet, a collection of soprano-trumpet works by Handel, Bach, Scarlatti, and others. Although it took them eight years to get together to make the album, it wasn’t for any lack of trying. ”Every time I saw him, like if I turned up at his set at the Blue Note, I’d say, ‘When are we going to make a record?”’ Battle recalls.
When Battle and Marsalis finally converged in the recording studio in September 1990, 17th- and 18th-century music was their common ground. With her light, silvery voice, Battle has had great success in Handel operas, while Marsalis has made several baroque albums and toured Italy playing Bach’s Brandenburg concertos.
As much as their musical styles intersected, their lifestyles often didn’t. Like many opera singers, Battle would arrive for a morning recording session awake and ready to peel paint off a microphone with her voice. Marsalis, having played late in a jazz club, would occasionally have to nap on the studio sofa. However, Battle came to appreciate his directness: ”He wants to find the truth in the music, but I can agonize over it. He heard me doing a recitative over and over again and said, ‘Why do you try to improve it when the first time was the best?’ From then on, I usually went with the first try.”