"Eric Clapton, he's from England, but he's a part of the blues tradition because that's what he studied, and that's what he wanted to learn how to play, much like I'm a part of the tradition of the German trumpet when I play the Haydn trumpet concerto, or the baroque trumpet, because I studied it and I wanted to play it," the New Orleans native said in a recent interview.
"Most of the musicians I've worked with, we come from the same kind of music, which is the blues, so I don't really have to do anything," added Marsalis, who has also performed with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, among others.
"I don't have to go outside of myself, I don't have to play any different kind of way. ... The music all comes from the same source, Afro-American music, blues, shuffles, basic beats and things that were put in place between the Civil War and the turn of the century."
Clapton and Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performed together in April for the center's annual gala benefit. A CD from that night, "Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues," was released earlier this month.
Marsalis says he was surprised by how strong Clapton's work ethic was; the guitar god performed for free and did extensive research to come up with the list of songs, which included "Corrine, Corrina" and "Joe Turner's Blues."
"When I looked at the list of the songs that he picked and also listened to the version of the songs that he liked, they covered such a wide span of regional sounds and different grooves. ... It reflected an even deeper understanding that I had of the regional differences of American music and of blues, at different times, so I just went along with the songs that he picked," Marsalis said.
Marsalis said there are no firm plans to work together in the near future, but he knows it will happen.
"It was too much fun playing to not play again," he said.