Growing up, Wynton Marsalis was a household name. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized that this was probably particular to my household. My father is a trumpet player, and so, like Bach or The Beatles, I didn’t know much about Marsalis, but I knew he was really good at the music thing.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis came to Dartmouth my first year. I was an Arts Ambassador, and I had the opportunity to sit in on an open rehearsal. I was beside myself with excitement. I told my parents weeks in advance and bragged to everyone I knew. After the rehearsal, Marsalis answered questions and told us a little about himself. I asked him about music education and the impact that he hoped to have. Afterwards, he came up to me, shook my hand, and asked me to thank my parents for their own work as music educators. It was a moment I will never forget. For the past three years, I have told this story on every tour I’ve given (over 70!).
When I found out the group was coming back to campus, I knew I had to go see them. As I did my freshman year, I sat in on an open rehearsal and was, again, astounded. Two of the performers, the drummer and a trombonist, sat down to talk with us. The drummer revealed that he had never played two of the pieces before. They weren’t even sure what the set list was going to be for the night. I am constantly amazed by the level of skill, flexibility and capability exhibited by professional musicians.
The uniqueness of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is that is brings together bandleaders from other bands rather than following the traditional model of one leader. Although Wynton Marsalis is the headliner, each member is at the absolute top of their game. Watching them interact during soundcheck was watching collaboration at its finest. Quick check-ins and feedback peppered around the ensemble with no egos, no yelling and no adversity.
The concert I saw tonight (October 3) featured songs written or arranged by members of the ensemble. The audience was not only able to hear the greatest big band in the country, but hear original works and works arranged specifically for the people on stage. The hour-and-a-half-long show was comprised of different styles of jazz, with solos on every instrument from saxophone to flute to voice.
Although it was an evening filled with wonderful music, I’d have to say that a high point was when Wynton Marsalis stopped during his introduction of one of the songs: he waved to a little girl in the front row and said he knew what it felt like to be in her shoes, his parents taking him to gigs at night when she wanted to be sleeping. In my senior year filled with reflection, at this event bookending my Hopkins Center experience, it felt like he was talking to me, when my dad used to take me to his trumpet gigs.