Jazz at Lincoln Center reopens, with four young players in the spotlight
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was amused when four trumpeters, all under the age of 30, took their places in the rehearsal hall on Tuesday morning.
“These are the Young Lions! Called baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela, referring to the coterie of traditionally clad, up-and-comers bop up-and-comers who rose up during the Reagan and Clinton administrations while orienting jazz towards a concert art with repertoire. classical music style.
It made people laugh.
“We tried this in the 90s,” said bassist Carlos Henriquez.
Soon Wynton Marsalis, once the pride of these young lions, called the group to order from his perch in the trumpet section and the orchestra lit up in “Windjammers,” a Marsalis cooker designed to present the quartet of guest trumpeters, including some students. The four exchanged bars, pauses, and sometimes expressions of wonder, as if they couldn’t believe they were – to borrow a title from Marsalis’s own repertoire – in this house this morning.
The occasion: the kickoff of the 34th concert season of the Jazz at Lincoln Center – and the first live performance of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City since the Covid-19 closures. The season will include a tribute to Chick Corea, who passed away in February; a celebration of the centenary of Charles Mingus; and three concerts featuring extraordinary singers, Dianne Reeves, Catherine Russell and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
The excitement of the reopening pulsed through the group. “Looking and seeing our audience and feeling that energy, I’m going to be overwhelmed,” said Ted Nash, saxophonist and songwriter. “We did all of these virtual things, but to create a sound field and a sound field together. energy in person, where all sounds blend together – that’s why I’m doing this. “
Marsalis was quick to say that he hadn’t named this weekend’s concerts – “Wynton at 60” – which celebrate his new status as a 60-year-old with a schedule of his four-decade originals.
Yet despite a warm, even gentle demeanor, there was no doubt that he was in charge, announcing the order of soloists in rehearsal, or small adjustments to the charts. But when a soloist sometimes asked him how to approach a section, he would reply, “Do whatever you all want. Or, “You play it.”
Freedom within structure, of course, separates Jazz at Lincoln Center from other major performing arts institutions with repertoire. So does Marsalis’ tradition of inviting young musicians to perform on its largest stage, the Rose Theater at the Columbus Circle complex.
“It shows that the generations are working together,” he said. “When we created the orchestra, the surviving members of the Duke Ellington orchestra played. Marcus Belgrave performed with Ray Charles. Sir Roland Hanna has performed with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Jerry Dodgion and Frank Wess performed with Basie. They have given us much of the feeling for music, its identity and meaning. So, this is a continuation.
Chris Crenshaw, trombonist, composer and arranger who has been with the orchestra since 2006, said: “We have a load to keep. We have a responsibility. There is so much in all traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation orally or with music.
The responsibilities that come with being the artistic director and public face of a major arts organization have meant that, for Marsalis, closure has never really been a closure. He pulled out his phone and flipped through dozens of photos of sheet music pages for upcoming projects (a tuba concerto, a bassoon piece).
Versions of the group have toured the United States and around the world, passing endless Covid-19 tests and often playing music from their political engagement “The Democracy!” Suite ”, which claims song titles like“ Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize (Black Lives Matters) ”. Streaming gigs, from the safe and some fees, have abounded and will continue – this season, any concert can be streamed for a donation of $ 10.
The work helps distract from the losses that have racked up since March 2020, including Marsalis’ musician father Ellis and friend and mentor critic Stanley Crouch in addition to more musicians than any institution could fully commemorate it. “I tend not to linger,” he says. “My dad, he said ‘Everyone loses people. And when you focus too much on your own…’” He let that thought slip away and then remembered something pianist John Lewis had said to him. day. “” Focusing too much on even something negative is a form of deep ego. “
“You have to keep moving forward, stay productive and try to create the world you envision,” Marsalis added.
At 60, Marsalis, who won a Pulitzer in 1997 for “Blood on the fields, ” his oratorio on slavery sees a world in which democracy itself is in peril, and “the intellectual class still wants the black man to be a fool on every level.” His humanism, however, sustains him. “You can overturn the Constitution and make it more difficult for people to vote, make the work of the government more difficult,” he said. “But there are always voices that defend the integrity of the document, which is editable – it is not set in stone.”
He quickly returns to the subject on which he has most often aroused controversy. “The music is the same. You can be flippant enough to undermine its integrity and be successful. But there are always just enough voices who believe in his integrity.
These young trumpeters, in his opinion, are among those voices. Jazz at Lincoln Center’s mission has always been focused on the education and advocacy of jazz, and the guest artists of “Wynton at 60” – Summer Camargo, Giveton Gelin, Tatum Greenblatt and Anthony Hervey – demonstrate the power of this. sensitization.
Camargo caught Marsalis’ attention when her high school in South Florida entered the institution’s annual “Essentially Ellington” contest, which invites school groups to register by playing free Duke Ellington charts, then brings the finalists in New York to perform. Now a student at Juilliard, Camargo said she would never have attempted to compose without the impetus of the competition, where, in 2018, she won awards for composition as well as for solo.
“When people ask me what was one of the best days of your life, I always come back to that moment,” she said. “Wynton took me backstage and gave me compliments and advice. It doesn’t water it down – it tells you what you need to do to get better.
Gelin, a recent Juilliard graduate who released his debut album himself, also praised Marsalis’ generosity as a mentor – and his practical advice. Visiting New York City from the Bahamas during his high school years, Gelin attended a free Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert in Queens and then crossed the line to meet Marsalis. The next day, Gelin performed for him at home and was surprised that such a famous character would invest such energy in urging a child to dig deeper into developing their own voice.
“I spent a lot of time in the Haitian church,” Gelin said. “One of the first things Wynton told me was to listen carefully to the singers there and see how their vocal qualities reflect where they’re coming from.”
Marsalis nodded when reminded of this meeting. “Your sound will be organic when who you are isn’t fighting who you want to be,” he said.
On opening night Thursday, the four promising players had their chance on stage. The orchestra’s 90-minute ensemble reviewed some of Marsalis’ most beloved compositions, including big band stompers, ballads and percolating curiosities marked by his penchant for musical onomatopoeias, with horns in mute imitating the buzz of bees and the whistling of train whistles.
The 15-member ensemble tackled “The Holy Ghost” from Marsalis ‘”Abyssinian Mass” and delivered a tonic, unamplified solo over a quartet treatment of Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” which he dedicated “to. all the people who lost someone and I couldn’t say goodbye to them.
But the loudest response from the crowd came soon after these young trumpeters took to the stage. Camargo’s daring opening solo got clients to stand up and inspired Marsalis – her hero – to think afterwards, “She’s not playing at all.”
The joyous clamor of the four bell-ringers brought down the house. Marsalis called their presence a “birthday present for myself,” but their performances suggest it’s not just a gift for him.