Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Fri. Jan. 16
Charleston Music Hall
37 John St.
"I Can't Get Started" from the album Standards & Ballads
"Mood Indigo" (from recent live recordings)
"Jazz music objectifies America. It's an art form that can give us a perilous way of understanding ourselves."
—Wynton Marsalis in the opening scenes of director Ken Burns' documentary Jazz
Acclaimed trumpeter, educator, and musical director Wynton Marsalis appears on screen more than any other jazz musician in filmmaker Ken Burns' Jazz, the 20-hour documentary series that originally aired on PBS in 2001. As one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic students of the musical genre, the New Orleans native probably should have been in even more scenes.
This Friday, Marsalis leads the renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (the JLCO) through a concert at the Charleston Music Hall. A versatile big band comprised of 15 skillful and expressive jazz soloists and ensemble players, the JLCO has been the Jazz at Lincoln Center resident orchestra for over 12 years. Featured in all aspects of Jazz at Lincoln Center's programming, it performs and leads educational events in New York, across the U.S., and around the globe.
Proceeds from the world-class event benefit the Charleston Concert Association's education program (www.charlestonconcerts.org). "With the jazz groups, unlike the classical groups, they traditionally announce the program from stage," says Charleston Concert Association President Jason Nichols. "In a repertoire announcement we received recently from the group, they say they will 'demonstrate originality, versatility and virtuosity by embracing the totality of the big band genre.'"
The JLCO boasts a powerful brass section with three trumpeters — Sean Jones, Ryan Kisor, and Marcus Printup — as well as three trombonists — Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, and Elliot Mason. All six are fluent in the language of early-era big band brass — from the whinny 'n' squawk of old New Orleans heroes through the smooth elegance of Ellington and Basie. The reed section incudes Sherman Irby on alto saxophone; Ted Nash on alto and soprano sax and clarinet; Walter Blanding, Jr. on tenor and soprano sax and clarinet; Victor Goines on tenor and soprano sax, B-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet; and Joe Temperley on the low-end with baritone and soprano sax and bass clarinet. The backing rhythm section features Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson (a Marsalis combo veteran) on the drum kit.
"I like Marsalis' and the JLCO's music more than some jazz performers because it's so accessible," says Nichols. "It's classic Blue Note selections and new arrangements from other greats. I think this will be a very accessible and traditional jazz program."
Established in 1936 as a nonprofit organization, the Charleston Concert Association is the area's oldest presenting organization. Every season, the association produces a variety of world-class classical and popular music programs to the Charleston area.
In 1976, the CCA connected with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and leader Charles Wadsworth (of Spoleto Festival USA), who founded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1969.
On the jazzy side of things, the CCA recently partnered with the Circular Congregational Church's Jazz Vespers program. It hooked up with the Charleston Jazz Initiative, as well, to offer a free jazz lecture series that is open to the public. These efforts reflect the CCA's current mission to get younger audiences and up-and-coming musicians fired up about concert music of all styles.
Marsalis, 46, made his mark in the music world in the early '80s — initially as the trumpeter in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and as part of pianist Herbie Hancock's group, then as the leader of his own combo. The trumpeter came from a musical family. His brother Branford Marsalis plays sax, and his brother Delfeayo plays trombone. With Branford in the frontline, Wynton recorded and released the 1983 album Think of One, which marked the debut of his jazz quintet and sold over 200,000 copies. That success inspired what some remember as the "Young Lions" movement in which major labels actually supported up-and-coming jazz artists.
Through the 1980s and '90s, Marsalis excelled as a superb trumpeter, arranger, and educator. Part of his story includes controversy involving his supposedly negative attitude toward modern jazz, a brief rift between him and Branford, and a musical detour into classical recordings and performances. Many critics maintained the impression that his technique and style too closely resembled those of Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, and other greats. However, as a performer, composer, and teacher, Marsalis' distinguished career speaks for itself — and his playing style has become even richer over the last decade.
Despite the praise and criticism surrounding his work, Marsalis maintains a deep understanding of the art and dialogue of jazz music. As he put it in Jazz, "The real power of jazz, and the innovation of jazz, is that a group of people can come together and create art — improvised art — and can negotiate their agendas with each other. That negotiation is the art."