Louisiana native Wynton Marsalis wows audiences all over the world. Tuesday night, he brought the Lincoln Center jazz Orchestra of New York City to Baton Rouge and wowed an audience with both classic and contemporary jazz music. It was a dynamic evening filled with musical surprises.
Certainly Louisiana residents can hear jazz throughout the year, but only at special events do we hear celebrity status ensembles playing complete concerts of the music that grew out of the culture of south Louisiana. The 15 -member Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Marsalis, is made up of some of the country’s finest soloists and ensemble musicians. They proved once again one of the most fascinating aspects of jazz. The music is constantly evolving and modern composers, such as Marsalis, are adding their own distinctive touches to this American music.
After the customary “key to the city” greetings, Marsalis took his seat among the orchestra’s trumpet section and announced the first three pieces, works by Count Basie. The big full, big-band jazz sound of “Sleepwalk Serenade” was followed by the elegant “Magic” featuring bass player Carlos Henriquez and pianist Dan Nimmer. The jazzy “Seventh Avenue Express” was a perfect showcase for Nimmer’s keyboard skills.
With that all too short tribute to Basie, Marsalis explained to the audience that the orchestra not only plays historic jazz pieces and tributes to jazz greats, such as Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Jerry Mulligan and John Coltrane. “We play our own music” said Marsalis. “We challenge each other. We compete with each. We grew up with this music and we play it all over the world.”
The jazz ensemble launched into a work of seven movements, “Portrait in Seven Shades,” composed by its own member Ted Nash, an extremely versatile musician who plays alto and soprano saxes clarinet and flute. Nash introduced each tune, briefly explaining which artist’s work inspired the work.
A special treat for the audience came when Wynton introduced his father Ellis Marsalis who was in Baton Rouge for the concert. The senior Ellis, a famed New Orleans musician and educator, joined the orchestra on the piano for a traditional New Orleans improvised blues. It was a real pleasure to hear both father and son performing together on the stage.
The ensemble then performed “La Danse” inspired by the painting of the same name by Henri Matisse. Wynton soloed not only on this work, but several others during the evening. The audience was treated to virtuoso musical performing by Wynton a number of times during the evening, particularly during the joyful “Picasso,” with its Spanish flair. All members of the orchestra were featured in solos during the evening proving why they are considered among the finest musicians in the world.
(Cynthia Campbell, a writer and editor resides in Baton Rouge, and covers Louisiana culture, cuisine, and travel. She has just completed “The Insider’s Guide to Baton Rouge” by Globe Pequot Press.)
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