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Wynton Marsalis Aims to Teach with His Trumpeting
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Thursday, February 10, 2022
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Wynton Marsalis could simply sit back and toot his horn. And it would be more than enough, given his nine Grammy Awards.

But Marsalis has used his music to do more than entertain over the past 40 years. He believes that jazz is a tool for understanding life. And, so, he has used his music to point out both the good and the bad in the world.

And that includes addressing racial equality and human justice.

“I’m old enough to remember the days when they were singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ And I’ve seen the aftermath,” said the 61-year-old trumpeter and composer who was born in 1961—the year the Freedom Riders pressed for integration of interstate travel. “Our music has always been about freedom for all people. I believe you can use music to help correct things that you don’t like with a certain type of grace, affirming both our individuality and collective identity.”

Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will bring their music meant to entertain and to provoke on Saturday, Feb. 12, to The Argyros in Ketchum. The concert is sold out but you can add your name to a waiting list by emailing boxoffice@theargyros.org

Founded in 1988, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis tours the world performing a vast repertoire of music from historic and rare compositions by the likes of Duke Ellington Count Basie, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie to new commissioned works.

The orchestra comprises 15 jazz soloists and ensemble players.

“We play a diversity of arrangements and, with 15 people, everybody improvising, no two concerts are alike. That keeps it fun and fresh. I never get tired of it,” said Marsalis.”

And when they’re not performing Marsalis is working on music.

“I’m always thinking about music, how we improvise, what rhythm looks like,” he said.

Born in 1961 to a musical family in New Orleans, Marsalis had his destiny cut out for him. His older brother Branford found fame as a saxophonist. Brothers Delfeayo and Jason played the trombone and drums.

He grew up sitting at the dinner table with Miles Davis and Al Hirt, who gave him his first trumpet when he was 6. Pushed to practice by his father Ellis Marsalis, a jazz pianist and educator, he was playing in the famed Fairview Baptist Church band at 8. And at 12 he began his formal training on the trumpet.

He began performing with the New Orleans Philharmonic and others and moved to New York City in 1979 upon high school graduation to study classical music at The Julliard School.

But jazz pulled him back into its fold. By 19 he was on the road with his own band, and he’s been touring ever since. He has performed nearly 5,000 concerts in 64 countries around the world at last tally.

Marsalis signed his first recording contract with Columbia Records at 22 and since has released more than a hundred jazz and classical recordings. That same year he became the only musician to win Grammy Awards in jazz and classical music the same year—a feat he repeated the next year.

While enjoying numerous accolades, he also suffered the indignities of being black growing up in the segregated south. At Juilliard he met such artists as choreographer Alvin Ailey, who also were dealing with racial inequalities and discrimination, and this honed his desire to make his music count for more than entertainment.

“Blood on the Fields,” his oratorio about slavery, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997. During the pandemic he wrote “The Democracy! Suite,” a poignant yet buoyant work that urges listeners to reflect on the past and reconsider the future during these turbulent times.

“The question that confronts us as a nation right now is: Do we want to find a better way?” he said. “The music urges us to action—to fight for the world we believe in.”

It’s not just about Black Lives Matter, he added.

“We’re pressing for universal humanism. People all over the world are fighting for the ability to live in a world that denies them opportunities.”

While music can drive people forward, it can also hold them back, he said. He considers rap, for instance, hormone-driven music that reinforces destructive behavior and portrays Afro-Americans in a bad light.

“People today are trying to divide us. Trying to divide isn’t necessary--it’s causing us all kinds of problems,” he said. “There are enough resources for all of us to live comfortably.”

ARGYROS TURNS ON THE STAR POWER

After going dark during the pandemic, The Argyros has been in overdrive with its Argyro Presents concerts and other events.

In the short span of a week, The Argyros hosted three nights of Banff Mountain Film Festival, three delightfully funny play readings by The Liberty Theatre featuring plays written by Woody and Margery Friedlander’s daughter-in-law Deb Lauper, and a high-energy concert featuring Take3 playing everyone's favorites, including a mishmash of Beethoven hits in three minutes. Sun Valley Opera will hold its gala there tonight.

“Later in the month we welcome back the Sun Valley Opera, SVMoA’s International Guitar Night and three days of the Sun Valley Music Festival, which makes it feel almost like early 2020 again,” said Margaret Hamamoto, the performing arts center development director. “It feels great to once again be providing the space to the community and host a lot of happy theatergoers to a wide variety of programming.”

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