Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra return to Denver February 19-20


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The last time Wynton Marsalis and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra were in town, well, they weren’t exactly in town. Instead of taking the Newman Center stage last spring as planned, they performed “Democracy Suite!” virtually.

If you are going to

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, February 19-20, at the Robert and Judi Newman Center, University of Denver, 2344 East Iliff Ave. Tickets and information about newmancenterpresents.com or 303-871-7720.

Marsalis composed the work as an inescapable response to calls from the 2020 social justice protests and the coronavirus pandemic. Her father, renowned jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., died of complications from COVID-19 in April 2020. And although the show was virtual, it was still one of the highlights of the event’s disruptive performance season. ‘last year.

Next weekend, Marsalis and the orchestra are heading to the Newman Center, this time in person. The nine-time Grammy-winning trumpeter, composer and cultural delegate took time out of the orchestra’s formidable touring schedule to talk via Zoom about spending time with his father and other musicians in New Orleans, the music that he loves, the ethics it has engendered and the collaboration.

Q: Last summer you performed with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra and Festival Chorus to mark the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. What do you think of jazz’s relationship to resilience and trauma?

A: Music is a survival tool, but it comes with a reality. Musicians don’t talk about victimization; it’s about solving problems. And music arms us to solve problems. Music makes you deal with yourself and things in a very real way. This takes the covers off you first, because to improvise you have to look at yourself.

Q: You have collaborated on many art forms. What makes a good collaboration?

A: If you share fundamental goals with the person you’re collaborating with, that’s the first thing. Then bring together the mechanics of the different styles. After that there is a poetic understanding of the meaning of form to not sacrifice the meaning of something to collaborate.

Q: I consider you a humanist, but someone who understands the differences between us.

A: Yeah. I believe in universal humanism — that’s what my father believed in. It’s not something I came to. I was lucky to be raised with him. It was his true belief.

“We have a really deep love and connection with each other,” Wynton Marsalis says of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. (Courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra)

Q: For decades you have made an eloquent argument about classical jazz, not in a precious way, but as a dynamic, living relationship that continues.

A: For me, it just ties into the larger national cultural dialogue around not loving your parents.

Q: And you still show so much love for your father.

A: I never needed to eat my parents to be full. My family was made up of struggling people and I was always at concerts with my dad and them, but they were struggling. Most of the time, people don’t rebel against those who are really struggling. They see that the struggle they have on Earth is already enough.

Q: When did the turning point happen in terms of music?

A: My attitude towards the music was that I couldn’t play it — it was difficult music — but I wanted to help them. I was not interested in rebelling. They were struggling enough. And it was so difficult for them without a lot of people to take gigs. Even so often I didn’t understand what they were saying. I mean, him and the other four or five jazz musicians – all great musicians, but certainly no money and not known, like Alvin Batiste, Nat Perrilliat, James Black. And I identified with that struggle. But it was still curious for me: why would a group of people want to play something that no one wants to hear? I joined a funk band when I was 13 and we always had a lot more people than my dad.

Q: Sounds like it made you an old soul, sitting in the room with those guys.

A: Not that I could play, but I was always around them. I have always been the only child in the club. I always identified with them, even if I didn’t necessarily identify with the music. So once I started listening to John Coltrane and the people they loved – none of my friends knew that kind of music or were into it – then I started going, ‘Man, I asking if I could learn to play like Clifford Brown?” At that time, in the 70s, we really didn’t know any of this. To the right? Because I was with my father, I knew it. I knew who Duke Ellington was. None of my friends did; we were playing Earth, Wind & Fire.

Q: Considering all this struggle, what was the turning point for you?

A: How great the music was. This music is great. That’s what my dad always said. Sometimes whole groups of people can lose a sense of who they are, and you have to hold on to that yourself.

Q: You and the orchestra have a set of core beliefs based on jazz. What are they?

A: Well, there are three basic things that music teaches you. One, improvisation. It gives you a sense of self worth and the freedom to believe and express your true identity. You don’t have to belong to a clan. Then the second is the opposite of that. It comes from balance, that is to say, you have to find a kind of middle ground or balance, because that is what you are able to do, to reconcile the opposite of these different perspectives. This is the part we struggle with the most because you have to constantly seek balance and balance. And if you achieve it in one minute, that doesn’t mean you’re going to achieve it in the second minute. The swing is a concept. It means we all find ways to work together. And sometimes that means we sacrifice our own desires or those of our group to find a larger common ground. And then the third goes through the blues, which is nothing but unwavering resilience.

Q: What are people going to hear at the Newman Center?

A: Before this tour, I called each member of the Orchestra and told them, choose three arrangements or songs that we played that are most meaningful to you. We have music from Chick Corea – he played with us a lot and recently passed away. We have original compositions that I have done and that members of the orchestra have done. We have Monk’s music. We have Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite. We have a lot of other stuff that I think people will appreciate the way we play music because we play it with a lot of conviction.

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Henry R. Wright