A tribute to the US trumpeter and composer who is turning 60 – and who is coming to Vienna for three concerts. Today’s most influential jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader in America comes from a family of musicians from New Orleans, where this music was created around 120 years ago. There are several such musical dynasties in American jazz, just think of the Dorsey brothers (Jimmy played the clarinet, Tommy trombone) or the Heath brothers (Albert was a drummer, Jimmy saxophonist and Percy bassist).
The Marsalis clan has so far produced five jazz musicians: Ellis, who died last year, was a pianist and music teacher. Four of his sons are recognized instrumentalists today: Branford is a saxophonist, Delfeayo trombonist, Jason drummer and Wynton as primus inter pares trumpeter.
When Wynton Marsalis was born on October 18, 1961, his later idol Louis Armstrong was still active with his All Stars. The young Wynton never saw “Satchmo” on stage. When Armstrong died in 1971, Marsalis was just ten years old, but at that time he was already a member of the band of the Fairview Baptist Church under the direction of the famous banjo player Danny Barker in New Orleans. And as a 14-year-old middle school student, the talented young trumpeter performed with various local ensembles, including the New Orleans Philharmonic.
When Wynton was 17 years old, he was accepted into the Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center as the youngest young musician. The gifted autodidact, endowed with healthy ambition, moved to New York in 1979 to begin studying at the renowned Juilliard School of Music. He also appeared in jazz clubs, came into contact with stars of the scene and attracted the attention of Columbia Records with his powerful trumpet sound. This label offered him his first record deal.
In 1980 the famous drummer Art Blakey was looking for a new trumpeter for his Jazz Messengers. This hardbop formation was a talent factory that produced great soloists such as Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. Now Wynton Marsalis has already caught the eye of jazz stars such as the singer Sarah Vaughan, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the pianist Herbie Hancock and the bassist Ron Carter. Again and again they brought the young trumpeter for live gigs or recordings.
Wynton Marsalis formed his first band in 1981, exactly 40 years ago. The 1980s were shaped by the “Young Lions” in American jazz, including Marsalis, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist James Carter and bassist Christian McBride. While in earlier decades the development of jazz was determined by successive styles (New Orleans, Chicago, Swing, Bebop, Cool Jazz, Hardbop, Free Jazz or Fusion), the protagonists of this music now ignored all style boundaries. Different currents and styles coexisted. The jazz scene of the 1980s offered a great variety – not only was contemporary jazz “in”, young musicians also played traditional styles.
A certain conservatism prevailed in American jazz at that time, with its conscious cultivation of tradition. The legacy of jazz was emphasized until the advent of free jazz. The clarity of the musical lines was emphasized, the phrasing was more important than the tone formation.
“High school trumpeter”
Wynton Marsalis was influenced by this zeitgeist, which brought him into the crossfire of criticism from some avant-garde artists and even from the great trumpeter Miles Davis. What was not he accused of: he was a reactionary guardian of the grail of jazz tradition, a soulless technician on the trumpet, even a racist neo-traditionalist.
In fact, Marsalis was under the influence of the conservative jazz theorist and publicist Stanley Crouch, who died the previous year. The public appearance of Marsalis, always elegant and eloquently multilingual in all media nationally and internationally, was evidently a factor for some music colleagues such as the introverted pianist Keith Jarrett (“He sounds like a talented high school trumpeter”) and even more so for some young jazz critics Annoyance.
Even then, the overwhelming majority of experts did not question Marsalis ’virtuosity as a trumpeter. The German jazz journalist Joachim Ernst Berendt recognized the great talent of this musician from New Orleans early on: “Since Dizzy Gillespie, the jazz trumpet has not been blown with such a lucid technical mastery as Wynton Marsalis.” The respected trumpeter colleague Randy Brecker said that Marsalis’ playing interprets the entire history of jazz from today’s perspective.
And this is how Wynton Marsalis himself describes his relationship to tradition: “Before you understand what the extension of a thing is, you have to understand what this thing actually is. Every jazz musician uses tradition, everyone in his own way. You take different forms, organize the voices are different, set different harmonies, use different rhythms. Everyone has influenced me: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington. I don’t run away from these influences, I’m not afraid of them, because I know I have my own voice. ”
Wynton Marsalis, who meanwhile had a profound musical education paired with a grandiose technical virtuosity, has recorded the trumpet concertos by Joseph Haydn, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Leopold Mozart among many other classical works. He recorded more than ten classical albums, one with the singer Edita Gruberova. Marsalis gave concerts with famous orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra up to the London Royal Philharmonic.
Great conductors such as Leppard, Previn, Dutoit, Maazel, Masur, Slatkin and Tilson-Thomas were at the podium. A highlight was the album “Baroque Duets” with the singer Kathleen Battle. Perhaps the most famous classical trumpeter Maurice André says: “Wynton Marsalis is possibly the greatest trumpeter of all time.” Marsalis himself says, by the way, that in addition to many great jazz musicians, Igor Stravinsky and Ludwig van Beethoven also influenced him.
More than 100 albums
Marsalis composed not only jazz music, but also symphonic works. His “Swing Symphony” was premiered in 2010 by the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of Simon Rattle. His “Violin Concerto” was premiered in 2015 with the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of James Gaffigan with the violin soloist Nicola Benedetti.
In total, Marsalis has released more than a hundred albums so far, of which more than seven million copies have been sold worldwide. Three plates achieved gold status. Wynton Marsalis received nine Grammys for his jazz and classical recordings.
At the end of the 1980s, New York’s Lincoln Center began to expand its program offering by staging jazz concerts. This initiative was so well received by the public that in 1991 the Jazz at Lincoln Center division was founded. Just one year later, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was launched, which this year is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Eloquent & elegant
Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director of both Jazz at Lincoln Center and the orchestra, which has a year-round concert cycle in the JALC complex with its three event halls overlooking Central Park. In addition, the orchestra, which is made up of brilliant soloists, regularly tours all over the world. In this country it made repeated appearances at the Salzburg Jazz Autumn, the Vienna Jazz Festival and in the Vienna Konzerthaus.
Wynton Marsalis is a stroke of luck for jazz, which has often been declared dead in its history, because he combines so many talents in his person: He is an outstanding trumpet virtuoso, a celebrated band leader and composer, a music teacher in demand at all US universities, a talent scout in the current one Jazzszene, a successful artistic director of the largest jazz organization in the USA, a phenomenal fundraiser of subsidies and sponsorship funds for jazz, an eloquent and elegant ambassador of jazz in all media worldwide – and above all: He has jazz, America’s most important contribution to the World cultural heritage, finally given the social status it deserves in its country of origin.
Wynton denies television shows, radio programs and has published six books so far. More than 30 American universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale, have awarded him an honorary doctorate. As early as 1995 Time magazine listed him among the 25 most influential Americans, and in 2005 he received the National Medal of Arts, the highest artistic award in the United States, from the US government. President Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2015. In 1997 Wynton Marsalis received the Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio “Blood on the Fields” – and he is a member of the French Legion of Honor.
In view of the questioning of democratic standards by the former US President Donald Trump, Marsalis also took a clear political position. His eight-part “Democracy Suite”, released this year on record, is intended to remind people that democracy must always be defended or fought for again. He dedicated one title of this orchestral suite (“Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize”) to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In it, a saxophone screams its anger beyond the untenable conditions for the People of Color, while the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra acts confidently in the background. Wynton Marsalis: “Democracy is like a living organism that should give everyone individual opportunities for development. It’s the same in jazz.” How topical this topic is is shown by the efforts to restrict the right to vote for African Americans in view of the midterm elections in 2022 in some republican-ruled states.
“Music has the power to change people’s understanding and consciousness: Not like a military or political act, but it can inspire people to act,” says Wynton Marsalis – and about the situation in the USA: “Musicians have always been socially critical Jazz is perfect as a form of expression for this, because African American people have always suffered from the burden of being free in the land of freedom, but are prevented from doing just that by a majority: being free. ”