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  • Tuesday night we played Woolsey Hall on the campus of Yale University.

    Posted on October 24th, 2013 | 0

    Tuesday night we played Woolsey Hall on the campus of Yale University. Colleges, with the concentration of intellectual pursuit and the heightened intensity of male/female interchanges, have always been fantastic sites for Jazz concerts. However, we did not play for an audience of college age students. It was an older, more patient group. They sat in the Hall with the weightiness of deep listeners. This Mass is two hours in total and, as with any long music, after a combined hour and twenty minutes, people get restless—not last night. Their attitude affected our pacing. Where we would normally feel the need to rush, they gave us the sense that it was ok to take our time.

    Though they were not overly demonstrative, we had the sense that they were always with us. I could see them following all the words in the program, and we were given a most heartfelt and rich applause at the end. It was a gratifying performance and we are grateful to Reverend Bonita Grubbs and Christian Community Action for having welcomed us to New Haven.

    We will be in our home, Frederick P. Rose Hall, for the next three days and then on to a final concert in Boston on Sunday. So, this is the last night of actual touring. After the concert, the choir and band go to various watering holes around the hotel and begin to assemble for 12:30 and 1am call times. There is, of course, a euphoric excitement about returning home to see loved ones and sleep in your own bed. But there is also a feeling of loss. This extended family is winding down and will never be exactly the same again. We linger for a moment with each other in unspoken recognition that the landscape of our lives has been altered forever.

    For road manager Raymond Murphy, this is his last night of tour. He’s going home to Maryland. We call him Boss and the choir calls him Uncle Ray. He has done a fantastic job managing a very large group. This has been a well organized and well run tour. Congratulations to him and to our bus drivers. Band drivers Paul Pryor and Tim McWilliams, and choir drivers Greg Miller and Monty Walls carried us safely for these last weeks, many times driving through the night. They were dependable, hospitable and soulful. Thank you all.

    Let’s hear from Damien Sneed, the leader of Chorale Le Chateau:


    I met Clinton Ingram earlier this year while conducting the opera HARRIET TUBMAN by Nkeiru Okoye. He played the role of Harriet’s father and I immediately knew he would be a perfect fit for Chorale Le Chateau and the Abyssinian Mass. Clinton Ingram:


    Wow! We had such a wonderful and uplifting performance of “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration!” last night at Yale University. Forty-four years ago (1969) I graduated from the Yale School of Music with a Master of Music degree in Voice. During the two wonderful years I spent there (1967-1969) I had the privilege of attending and performing in concerts at Woolsey Hall. Never in my wildest imagination would I have believed that 44 years later I would again have the privilege of performing there, and, especially with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis and as a member of Chorale Le Chateau under the direction of the musically gifted Damien Sneed. It not only brought back memories of my time at Yale, but also gave me pause to reflect upon what a blessing it was to be a part of such a glorious experience and full-circle journey.

    “All Glory Be…!”

    Clinton Ingram, Tenor


    We look forward to our three performances in Rose Theater on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Please be sure to check in to our live webcasts of the performances.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • All great music is a gift and thus an instrument of God

    Posted on October 22nd, 2013 | 0

    Blackboard in the Orchestra’s dressing room

    LC’s Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, MO

    We participated in the inaugural season of Parmer Hall at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania last night. This is a College with the spirit of music all around it. Here’s a photo of the blackboard in the Orchestra’s dressing room; a beautiful, warm hall with acoustics that allowed us to take down the band’s microphones for the second half. A great hall is very difficult to build. This one will serve the College well. Congratulations.

    Well, I struggled mightily with my horn for the first hour or so and got a wakeup call about staying on top of it, but that didn’t stop everyone else from playing on their normal high-level. After the concert, I met with students and friends and even later had the opportunity to share a meal in the home of Bishop Nathan Baxter and his most gracious and hospitable wife, Mary Ellen.

    Some 20 years ago we met and kindled a friendship which led to our septet playing “In This House on This Morning” in the National Cathedral (I still remember Victor Goines was on fire that night). Just the prayer before the meal would have been worth an admission price, but the one after the meal, produced a fullness that had Mary Ellen and me thanking the Bishop as well as The Lord.

    It’s now midnight and the three of us have had a spirited conversation about politics, community and the meaning of change. Bishop Baxter, whose grandfather was a sharecropper and AME preacher, and whose father was a tent making pastor, responds to my questions about the Bible and women, and tribalism vs. universal humanism, with scripture. From Mark 7:24 and Matthew 15:21-28 to John 4:7-24, each passage received a memory, identification and explanation. On the drive back to my hotel, The Bishop and I speak with the easy intimacy of family about growth and the purpose of tradition. He agrees to write a post for today. At 3:30am, he sent it.

    The Right Reverend Nathan D. Baxter, Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania and former Dean of the Washington National Cathedral:

    One of the great spiritual moments of my life was 7 years ago on this very day October 21, 2006. On this day I was consecrated 10th Bishop of Central Pennsylvania. There was a 400 voice choir with brass orchestra and an African Drum ensemble. There were not only Episcopalians present but 20+ different denominations gathered to pray and celebrate together. On that day we sat rapt as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate, preached to me and the thousands gathered about the power of God’s love to break down the walls which separate us from one another and from God. His words were inspired and inspiring. But more than his words, was the spirit of his manner. The sound of his voice, the essence of his very being—-his soul, seemed to reach out and embrace us all across our great diversity of color, race, politics and denominations. There came from that inspiration a spirit of oneness in our singing, praying and even the great solemn moments in the ceremony.

    Tonight, on my 7th anniversary, I was equally blessed by the inspired genius of Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian 200: A Gospel Celebration. It was not just a celebration of Gospel as a genre, but more a celebration of the Gospel as good news. The Spirit was present in the great concert hall of Messiah College as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and an incredible 70 voice chorale exuded the good news of joy, hope and spiritual beauty. The chorale was directed by Damien Sneed.

    This young man in his conducting and choral choreography is indeed the next Dr. Nathan Carter (legendary late director of famed Morgan University Choir). Damien’s ability to channel the Spirit as well as the letter of the music through the choristers and musicians was inspired. He is a maestro! This was difficult music, requiring soul and discipline. But through these musicians the audience of that great hall became a congregation—-clapping, swaying, cheering and moaning; interspersed with powerful moments of enraptured stillness. Those latter moments made me think of God’s call in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”. We knew God was in that place in the many ecstatic joyful moments and the moments which called us into a reflective reverent stillness.

    All great music is a gift and thus an instrument of God. The human tendency is to divide it in to sacred and secular, classical and folk, or prejudice it by limiting its efficacy to ethnicity or culture. But I think great music inspires and comforts, it challenges and disturbs, and most of all it transcends the limits of our circumstances. A definitive essence of great music is that it articulates most effectively without or beyond words (it’s a language of the soul, not of culture or tribe). Whether love of neighbor, love of the ethereal, or the love that sets my body on fire, these are spiritual realties and gifts of God. Great music speaks of the soul grieving loss (Requiems or Blues); the hunger for freedom and the hope which keeps that hunger alive against all odds.

    As African-Americans we often forget that the rich array of music which has kept us a people able to “articulate” our pain and our painful realities, and also articulate a hopefulness and often joy is a divine gift. It is a language of the soul—whether blues or slave work-songs; whether the Spirituals or traditional Gospel—- all of this is a gift given us, a gift of Divine love to cherish and nurture and share. For, the proof of great music is its ability to touch the souls of those beyond the ethnicity through which it was birthed.

    Tonight the confluence of Spirituals, Gospels, blues, New Orleans Swing, and yes, some serious Be-bop stirred our souls. As the old Sunday school song goes, “Yellow, Red, Black and White, all were precious in God’s sight” on this night. So, thanks to the genius of Wynton’s composition and orchestration, the commanding conducting of maestro Damien, and the artistically disciplined but spirit-filled performance of orchestra and chorale for liberating the Spirit tonight. For tonight I celebrated my consecration as a bishop, once again surrounded by an audience gloriously transformed into a congregation of celebration.


    Now we will hear from a man that the entire orchestra loves beyond any reasonable measure. He is nimble and steadfast as a person and a musician. Incorruptible and absolutely thorough, he has met some of the toughest musical challenges with absolute dedication and an unwavering positivity. He is a lover of 4/4 swing and deserves a “Zen of” book. Mr. Dan Nimmer:

    I’ve been asked the same questions over and over for many years now on the road. These questions come from taxi drivers, bar tenders, someone sitting on the airplane next to me, or just anyone trying to strike up a little conversation. The questions usually start off with “Where are you from?” “What brings you here?” When I explain that I’m with a band performing in town, they usually ask, “What kind of music is it?” And when I say Jazz music the response is sometimes, not always, but sometimes, “What type or what style of Jazz is it?”

    I love explaining to them about what the JALC Orchestra is all about. I tell them that what we play is not restricted to any era or sub-genre of the music and that we embrace everything that is good from all musics. It’s pretty much like what Duke Ellington said. There are only two types of music: the good kind and the other kind. I’m proud to be part of this thing that Wynton has created especially in the current time period and scene where we desperately need more quality leadership.

    Last night’s concert in Mechanicsburg at Messiah College was the second to last gig before we go back to play in New York City. Parmer Hall was a beautiful venue. This was the 14th concert we’ve played. These shows are maybe the best example of how our music isn’t defined by one style or era because the Abyssinian Mass encompasses a very wide spectrum of music. Tonight’s concert was another great one (just like the rest). You have the choir singing their butts off and bringing such an amazing energy to the stage, and you have the guys in the Orchestra playing with such fire, virtuosity and creativity. Both the choir and the band feed off of each other making every performance unique and uplifting. And it only gets better and better every night. Bravo to everyone!

    On the road, most of the guys in the band know that I’m a self-diagnosed “foodie”, meaning that I take pleasure in researching and going out of my way to find some great food. Some of the guys lovingly joke with me and say: “You aren’t taking me to one of those healthy places again are you?” or “Dan only likes those fancy fine dining places”. In reality, I’m on the hunt for anything great whether it be a $1.50 carnitas taco or a 15 course tasting menu that does not cost a dollar fifty.

    Here a few of the highlights from this tour:

    Kansas City, MO
    Everyone knows, or has heard of Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Oklahoma Joe’s, or Jack Stack in Kansas City. Those are the popular places and now have become chains with multiple locations. I’ve tried Gates and Arthur Bryant’s and both were good but not anything special to me. So this time I decided to dig deep and do some serious research. I came up with this spot named LC’s BBQ.

    I phoned Vincent Gardner, who is one of multiple barbecue experts in the band. He in turn phoned Chris Crenshaw and on our way out of the hotel we spotted Alex Knowlton and convinced him to join us. All four of us crammed into a small taxi. With the three of them being over 6’3”, that is a lot of height for one cab. It was about a 20 minute ride from the hotel. As we approached the driver said that it was coming up on the right. Vince said, “No, that’s gotta be it up on the left,” pointing at a small rundown looking building with an enormous amount smoke billowing from it.

    We walk in and are immediately in sensory overload. The first thing we see when we open the door is that the whole room is cloudy with BBQ smoke. We can barely see the counter to order. Between that and the smell we all knew that this was the real deal before we even let the door close behind us. Behind the counter there were two men handling the smoker with all kinds of meat in it. We placed our orders to go and hopped back in that not so spacious taxi because it was almost time for the sound check. We had to eat, get ready for the gig back at the hotel and depart in a short amount of time. When Vincent, Chris and Alex and I met on the bus to sound check, we just looked at each other, laughed, nodded and said, “Yes”. We didn’t need any other words. That food was better than correct.

    New Orleans, LA
    I’m always excited to come to New Orleans for many reasons but one of the most important reasons is that I know that I will get in a good meal at some point. On a previous visit I was on a hunt for the best shrimp po’boy in town. I came up with Domilise’s Po-Boy on Annunciation Street in Uptown. I got Jay Sgroi to come with me on the journey this time. It was a 20 minute cab from our hotel and our driver was unfamiliar with the spot. I can see why since it’s a ways out of the way and in a primarily residential neighborhood. It’s on the corner of a row of small houses and the only thing that distinguishes it from the other houses is a small handmade sign: “Domilise’s Po-boy and Bar”.

    This a classic neighborhood joint with all kinds of local flavor and character. There are three women who very much resemble each other constructing sandwiches of fried shrimp and oysters dressed on Leidenheimer classic New Orleans French bread. These are the kind of sandwiches that will make you shed a few tears. I found out that this family run business has been there for 75 years and that the menu has never changed.

    Victor Goines, from New Orleans, attended Loyola University about a mile from Domilise’s, told me that he used to eat there and spoke highly of their Po-boys. I felt even more successful about my find after it was authenticated by a native.

    You gotta eat, so why not eat good?!

    Dan Nimmer


    One of our greatest honors is to interface with musicians, teachers and families who go through all kinds of changes to attend our shows. I love greeting everyone and being the last person to leave the hall every night.

    We now hear from someone who has attended concerts since early teenhood. A young man who is always searching for a way to make a difference in this world.

    This is Mr. Jesse Markowitz:


    I write from a bench outside the Calvin and Janet High Center within the beautiful campus of Messiah College. The show ended about an hour ago, and my ride will be a few minutes, which gives me a chance to breathe and hopefully make sense of what just happened, though my initial assessment is that an ensemble of 85 people, most of whom I have never met, just guided me on a path of exploration towards the depths of my own humanity.

    Last night I hopped on an extremely uncomfortable overnight Greyhound bus from my home in Toronto to Philadelphia, followed by a morning bus to Harrisburg, and then an expensive cab ride to Mechanicsburg. In short, wild horses could not drag me away from the performance of a new work by Wynton Marsalis composed for jazz orchestra and 70-piece gospel choir.

    From the time my teenaged self first met Wynton Marsalis, I can trace nearly every tangible stage of my development into a man back to some nugget of wisdom I gleaned from his example, whether it was laid out with remarkable clarity in his (earth-shattering) book “Moving To Higher Ground”, or I was hearing in his music what it means to be an individual working within a democracy. I am still astounded by his extreme generosity when indulging me during those 3 a.m. phone calls, years ago, in which I would approach him with yet another thinly-veiled variation on “What does it all mean?” I have just entered a new chapter of my life, and while I am brimming with pride from newly minted professional relationships with my boyhood jazz heroes, I anticipate that just around the bend await new obstacles.

    I take solace in knowing that this music and these musicians will always be there to light my way.



    Tonight we look forward to performing in Woolsey Hall in New Haven, CT., the home of Yale University. The Reverend Bonita Grubbs, Executive Director of Christian Community Action — an ecumenical social service organization that expresses faithful witness by providing help, housing and hope to those who are poor in New Haven — has worked tirelessly and with much spirit to promote our appearance, having reached out to more than 900 churches throughout the state, including African American congregations in the Fairfield County area. This list of churches came via the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, the major sponsor of our concert, and we are grateful for all of the helping hands that have made our appearance possible.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • Yesterday was a travel day disguised as a day off

    Posted on October 21st, 2013 | 0

    Yesterday was a travel day disguised as a day off. 18 hours from point A to B which ended up being more like 20. One of the orchestra buses broke down and they opted to wait for the mechanic to come fix the problem. There went another 4 hours. Luckily, that went smoothly and only cost time. Many times a mechanical problem means a day or more of figuring out how to get to the next place.

    Chorale Le Chateau is traveling strong and hard. We always worry about them on these long drives. We talk about them a lot and love playing with them. It would be easy for the two groups to have conflict, but they have been beautiful. We love their spirit and the way they have responded to the music.

    This drive has given our resident film maker-composer/arranger-play anything with a reed (and read everything the first time)-‘can hear’-super adaptable-West Coast wizard of musical alchemy, a chance to ruminate on the tour, Mr. Ted Nash:


    There was a moment during a recent concert when Patrice, one of our soprano soloists, sang a short phrase with such clarity, control and expression that my eyes turned to water. I looked over at Walter, and his eyes were similarly wet. I couldn’t look at him anymore. I focused on the music in front of me, a quick choice to internalizing the experience – a safety measure, really. But as the music intensified, so did my willingness to be part of it; to experience it at the deeper level it was meant to be.

    Nicole, one of our alto soloists who clearly has roots in the church, went off script at the end of her solo, and for the first time we were really in a place of worship. People were cosigning, jumping to their feet. Damien Sneed, our stylish and exuberant choral director, was sculpting more than conducting. Nicole, feeling the energy, raised her pitch. I thought for a moment she had become possessed. It felt like the roof was going to come off. I was expecting a miracle to happen right in front of us. Well, in a way every opportunity to play beautiful music is a tiny miracle, and I am blessed to be able to do this night after night.

    One high point so far was being in New Orleans. Of course, some of the band members grew up here and have deep connection to the Crescent City. Wess Anderson, who used to play lead alto with the band, happened to have a gig at the French Quarter haunt, Snug Harbor. During our concert, word of Wess’s gig had spread like a brush fire through the ranks of the choir and as soon as our last note finished resonating through the hall about twenty-five of us (a mix of jazz band, choir and staff) jumped in taxis and headed over to hear “Warm Daddy” swing.

    Wess recently had a stroke and despite not having one-hundred percent of the fluent technique that he used to have, he absolutely did not lose an ounce of his soul, swing, clarity of ideas, and just plain Wess. It was amazing to look around the club and see several of the choral singers, many of whom are trained in opera, and have had very little involvement with jazz, be there and were swinging with Wess and the rest of us. It was a wonderful bonding experience.

    The morning after we drove twelve hours from Dallas to St. Louis I spent the morning at an elementary school talking music to three hundred fifth-graders. Two back-to-back assemblies of 150 enthusiastic music students. They were surprisingly attentive. I even got about ten volunteers to be my band: five singing a bass line and five clapping their hands. They became my rhythm section while I jammed on some blues. They weren’t exactly ready for a national tour, but we had a good time.

    As we come into our last week I look forward to all the ways the music will continue to grow, and the opportunity to get to know more of these wonderful musicians with whom we are out here connecting with on Wynton’s beautiful and inspiring composition.



    In honor of having survived this long ride, here’s Damien:

    Quiana Smith, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, is a quiet kept secret in Chorale Le Chateau. I remember how one of our mutual friends introduced me to her by sharing the rave reviews of her recent success as a principle in Mary Poppins on Broadway. Her warm spirit is always refreshing to me and she leads by example.


    I’m not sure whether to sleep, take a shower now or in the morning, or continue shuffling through my iPod until I decide what to do. Whatever the case, the grueling idea of riding on a bus for 18 hours is over and surprisingly it wasn’t as bad as we all thought. Maybe I should speak for myself. I did hear the orchestra’s bus broke down… poor dears.

    After our concert at the aesthetically beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, MO, we had a couple of hours to ourselves to pack up, find food and or drink and gear up for our cross country bus ride to Harrisburg, PA. Some decided to fly and others, such as myself, decided to stick it out. I definitely could have used some frequent flyer miles to get there, but the stubborn side of me wanted to “stick it out”. I felt like if I’ve come this far, I should go ahead and do the damn thing all the way! The cool thing is everyone was able to ride comfortably because we all had our own seats. YAY! We were like siblings sharing a bedroom then one day our parents telling us we now have our own.
    Because we left at 1am from Kansas, we were able to sleep the time away so by the time the sun gently kissed our faces, we were already a quarter of the way there. Our first stop was around 6am at a rest stop. I had just fallen asleep 2 hours prior and my body did NOT want to get up, but nature called. :) Three hours later we stopped at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant, which has become a favorite breakfast stop. I can eat breakfast anytime of the day (It’s my favorite meal) and Cracker Barrel does breakfast right!
    We hop back on the bus, making sure we stretch our bodies and say hello to our fellow mates on bus 1. For a few minutes the bus is alive and excited about what the next few hours will bring. Not too long after the laughs die down and last joke has been told, there is quiet. Everyone is asleep. “Morning Mood” by Duke Ellington comes to mind as we drift off.

    The October air is crisp, clean, and smells like everything that fall is supposed to be. We drive through each city noticing the skylines and speak on how different and or similar they are from each other while my iPod acts as the soundtrack to our drive; A little bit of Tracy Chapman plays, Tyrone Wells, Lianne la Havas, Ani Difranco, Thelonius Monk and The Clark Sisters grace my iPod on this fine Sunday. Midway through we switch drivers. We were sad to see our dedicated driver, Monty leave us, but we welcomed Betty, our new driver for the last few hours with open arms. She didn’t seem intimidated at all by our lively bunch. In fact, she fit right in!

    As the sun and moon began switching places, we decided we needed a little something to get us through. John, a fabulous baritone had Kevin Hart’s new DVD release “Let Me Explain” and we laughed until we cried. I had seen it in the theatre when it opened, but it was actually cool to watch it with my bus and trying to guess who’s gonna laugh harder at the upcoming jokes. I do love hearing people laugh and sing (especially in their cars singing off key and LOUD). Laughter is healing. I’ve heard that laughter is the closest thing to heaven. I’m not sure how true that statement is, but in this situation laughter seemed to bring us to our destination a lot sooner. We definitely needed that. Thank you John!

    On road trips I take the time to reflect on the blessings of life. Though, we are tired, some upset and bodies aching, there is a blessing in it all. We are ALIVE, for one. And two, in this moment in time we are all doing what we love to do! SING! Come on! Is this our life right now? I pinch myself sometimes and realize there are a hundred other things that I could be doing and being miserable is not an option. We are singing to the Glory of God and that alone is something to smile about. Life isn’t so bad. And neither was the drive.

    “Glory to God in the Highest! Glory to God in the Highest!” – A lyric from “Anthem” by Wynton Marsalis.

    Q. Smith


    Tonight it will be a privilege to perform as part of the inaugural season at Messiah College’s Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts in Mechanicsburg, PA.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • We played to a packed house in full Saturday night finery

    Posted on October 20th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we played in the impressive Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It is an architectural marvel, a masterful piece of community development, and it is a new and defining landmark in the home of supersonic genius alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker.

    We played to a packed house in full Saturday night finery, glowing with the anticipation and expectation that attends the presence of a large ensemble of musicians and fellow citizens anointed in the red robes of the Holy. Every community sits in its hall a different way. This is the Midwest, and our audience surrounds us. Though even the ghost of Boss Pendergast is long gone, these are still good time, no-nonsense people. They sit in a concentrated silence and we are engulfed in their feeling.

    We almost always have great local musicians come out. Sometimes they grace us with a song. For jazz lovers, Kansas City means Bobby Watson, and the great alto man sat in with us last time we were here. Last night, we were blessed with the presence of one of our genius actors, Ms. Hilary Swank. She was in attendance with members of her family and listened with the same sophistication, concentration and sensitivity that defines her superb acting. She has agreed to write today’s post:


    Wynton Marsalis never ceases to amaze. His music always touches me profoundly and sends me traveling somewhere new and wondrous. He and the orchestra are supremely diverse, stunningly brilliant and always pushing the bar higher. Last night in Kansas City, Missouri, I had the privilege to witness Wynton’s latest masterpiece. A Gospel Celebration called: Abyssinian Mass. My words fall short in describing this awe inspiring performance, but once again, the music transformed and lifted the entire audience.

    The full Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra along with a 70 piece choir was masterfully conducted by the stunning Damien Sneed. Perhaps what amazed me most was witnessing such an immense size ensemble, listening to each other with such sensitivity and “playing off” of one another with such grace and aplomb! Wynton’s music sees life through so many different perspectives and tonight it was through God.



    Today is our longest travel day of the entire tour from Kansas City to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. We were in the bus at 2am comparing Gates Barbecue to L.C’s. Tomorrow night, it will be a privilege to perform as part of the inaugural season at Messiah College’s Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • This concert was especially meaningful to us because Thelma and David Steward were in attendance

    Posted on October 19th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we were presented by Jazz St. Louis at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. This is the second year in a row I’ve been in St. Louis on my birthday. It is a city that I love for many reasons, not the least of which is the many great musicians of all generations that it has birthed. From Clark Terry and Miles Davis to Todd Williams and Peter Martin and Jeremy Davenport, to Russell Gunn, Montez Coleman, Tony Suggs, Raymond Angry and the many alumni of East St. Louis’ Lincoln High Program to young Josh Williams, St. Louis has an eloquent roll call.

    This concert was especially meaningful to us because Thelma and David Steward were in attendance. We would not be on this tour were it not for their generous support and belief. With great pride I presented them with a Frank Stewart photo of the choir and orchestra in action and the honorary naming of a box seat in our home, Frederick P. Rose Hall. The feeling between he and Thelma animates a room. Their family’s investment has transformed the arts community in St. Louis. Today we will hear from Mr. Steward:


    Thelma and I and the Steward Family Foundation have partnered with Jazz St. Louis and many other organizations to bring a wide variety of artists to our community and others. Nothing that we have supported and made an investment in was comparable to what we saw last night!

    God has blessed Wynton with such a gift, such a genius. Only the Lord working through him could have orchestrated what we witnessed. We had the opportunity to honor God in a very special way and we appreciate Wynton partnering with us on this wonderful event. Bringing this tour to fruition has been an incredible journey, and it would not have been possible without our trust in God.

    One of the things that we as a community have always had challenges with, is trusting. This tour has been years in the making, so we had to trust, we had to have faith. God trusted us, and we trusted Him. In the word it says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Trust was a big part of this and I hope this will be an example for others to follow.

    The Bible says “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This was the full body of Christ working together for His glory, and His spirit shone through. It was the most impressive concert that I have ever been to and it left an indelible impression on Thelma and I. Thelma’s simple word to me was, “awesome!” This morning I was reminded of the verse, “give and it will be given to you in good measure, pressed down and overflowing.” I didn’t know how overflowing it would be.

    Thank you and God bless you.

    David Steward


    Today, we travel to Kansas City where we will be presented by the historic Harriman-Jewell Series at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Earlier this week on October 15, the great gospel educator and artist, Karla Scott, led a workshop with over 150 Kansas City students. We look forward to uplifting our Midwestern brothers and sisters tonight.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • There is no greater sound on earth, than Joe Temperley on a horn

    Posted on October 18th, 2013 | 0

    Yesterday was a day off. After an overnight drive, Ted, Sherman and I were up at 7:30am or so, sitting in the front cabin of the bus with coffee roasting and TV news wallpapering the sonic landscape as the burnished colors of early autumn provided a nostalgic freshness to the morning. Naturally, we started talking about Joe Temperley. 25 years of playing with Joe……we called him and gave some updates on the tour and on inside issues.

    One part of the Mass features Joe speaking a verse. Every night, when Vincent does it, we think about Joe’s Scottish brogue. He said he’s been following these posts, so cats said it would be hip if he would write one today, and he did. There is no greater sound on earth, than Joe Temperley on a horn:


    As I sit here at home in my living room, I think back to about 20 years ago to all the successful gigs we have played. My dearest brothers, Homey, Veal and Wess. I remember the road trips and the different pieces we have played for all the appreciative and wonderful audiences. We played this Mass in the Abyssinian Baptist Church about 5 or 6 years ago. The glorious sound of the music in that church, the choir, filling it with the resounding sound of their voices, and the glory of our saxophone section with Walter, Ted, Sherman and Victor.

    Wynton wrote an intro to “The Lord’s Prayer” for me. It is a very special piece of music to me that I played with reverence and love. Last year, when Sherman and Chris wrote their pieces, they gave me very important and meaningful parts. I am very thankful to them and to Wynton to have had the experience to play all that beautiful music. I also shall never forget Reverend Butts who delivered a wonderful service. Now we are bringing this joy to all parts of our country with today’s brothers, with much love and joy.

    When I think of Boss Murphy bringing his gypsy caravan across the country, it never ceases to amaze me. I have to say in all the years I have been on tour with the band, the most fun I have had was with Murphy.

    Least I forget Ernie and Charles. They drive the equipment all over the country, bleary eyed. God Bless them. I miss it and love it.

    Enjoy the long winding road. It is a blessing.



    Tonight, we are being presented by Jazz St. Louis at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. It will be a great honor and privilege to perform for our sponsors and friends, the Steward family.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • This has the feeling of the concerts we all played in the community growing up

    Posted on October 17th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we played The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas. Before we went on stage, I asked Carlos what we were looking like. He said, “This has the feeling of the concerts we all played in the community growing up. Let’s do our thing.” Our presenter, Curtis King, is a force to be reckoned with. He has created a movement towards excellence that I wish could be copied around the country. After sound check, he welcomed us with uncommon warmth and exuberance. Today, we hear from Mr. King:


    Something magnificent happened last night in Dallas, Texas at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL)! It was Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration.” When Damien Sneed told me about this project he was doing with Wynton Marsalis, I was intrigued and thought it would be a good, but too expensive, program to present as a part of TBAAL’s 37th season. On a trip to New York, Damien asked if I would be available for a meeting with JALC staff. I approached it with a “we are going to do this attitude.” After a somewhat lengthy meeting, details were worked out and the concert was on for Dallas at TBAAL!

    I went back to Dallas, shared the good news and we started to work. Wednesday was the only day available to us, so we tried every Marketing trick in the book from the traditional street promotions, radio, television, print, personal letter of invitation from Wynton, and social media to one-on-one group sales. Jazz fans didn’t know about gospel and gospel folks were unsure about jazz. Tickets were moving slowly. I was nervous but determined because I did not want to possibly tarnish a good developing partnership with JALC or disappoint Wynton and Damien. I was hoping for a sellout! Our theatre seats 1,750 . . . 1,203 patrons showed up . . . on a rainy Wednesday night!

    From the moment the choir walked on stage robed up, it was obvious the audience was ready for an experience. The orchestra followed, and the people leaped to their feet begging for ‘something’ with applauds and shouts before one voice was heard or a note played! Before the “Lord’s Prayer” ended, which was the third section of the program, there was no doubt that folks were ready to cut loose and have church; a kind of church that would prove to be cathartic, emotional and deeply spiritual as the evening progressed! One patron said to me during intermission, “Curtis, God bless you for bringing this to Dallas. This is not a concert, this is an experience and I am speechless beyond words.”

    Another patron (a teacher who brought 60 students from Texas College, Tyler, Texas) grabbed my hands, almost sobbing with tears, talked about the difficulties of trying to stay inspired and the challenge of inspiring her students given the fact that funds are limited to non-existent for her music program. “I’m hyped,” she said, “And so are my students! What they saw tonight is the epitome of musical excellence which I try to instill in them.” When the concert ended, the lobby was filled with patrons AN HOUR LATER. It was evident that the music and the spirit were still lingering in our souls.

    It’s almost 2am and I’m meditating, trying to capture in my mind what happened here in Dallas last night. No answers, just more questions – more probing of self actualization, artistic expression, aesthetic clarity, community commitment and human transformation. No human being should be deprived of this kind of experience! Last night, I witnessed human transformation, through music, that only time and eternity will validate what happened in the four walls at TBAAL in Dallas on Wednesday, October 16, 2013! On the next go round, I’d bet my life that folks will be lining up around the block to get in the doors at TBAAL.

    There’s nothing like first-hand experience to pass the word about “The Holy Ghost” at “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration” concert! The journey was worth every moment!!

    Curtis King
    TBAAL Founder & President


    Let’s now hear from the leader of Chorale Le Chateau, Damien Sneed:


    I met Djore Nance many years ago at the Juilliard School when he was an undergraduate voice major and I was a staff accompanist for the voice department. Over the years, we’ve become very close friends and have had the opportunity to perform together in many different arenas: classical music, jazz and of course, gospel music. Djore is one of the few singers I know who can authentically and instantaneously switch musical genres with excellence. Mr. Djore Nance:


    Last night in every single way imaginable, I was at home. We came to Dallas, Texas, last night for a performance of the Abyssinian Mass and Dallas came to us in a mighty way.

    The Black Academy of Arts and Letters was a second home for me as a child. I would go with my mother to rehearsals for performances that she may have been doing there, or with my auntie to rehearsal for the annual MLK Celebration concert. I first sang in the Naomi Bruton Theater at TBAAL at age 9, as a member of the choir for the MLK Celebration. As I stood on the stage for sound check last night, I was overcome. This was an absolute full circle moment for me.

    After the sound check, Curtis King, the illustrious founder and president gave us a hearty and profound welcome. His words about connecting to the depth of the spiritual and even metaphysical experience were illuminating, and challenged everyone on stage to deepen their commitment to bringing the people a profound musical and spiritual journey.

    Full circle. Before the MLK Concert that I sang in every year throughout my formative years, Mr. Curtis King would give a staunch, brazen call to arms, invoking the ancestors reminding us of our responsibility to give the people an experience that would open their hearts and minds.

    But, for me, singing this music with Wynton and Damien is the most esoteric, transcendent experience. I first met Mr. Marsalis in Dallas in 1997. That year I was deciding whether I would major in Jazz Studies or Classical Voice. My mother took me to his performance at SMU and afterward I met him. Mommy told Wynton that I was in the midst of deciding what genre to focus on as a musician. He said in a very workmanlike tone: “Do it all, just make sure you master it – don’t play wid’ it.” That was a seminal moment for me. It hadn’t occurred to me that musical passion and talent wasn’t separated by genre. So, I did Jazz Studies at University of North Texas, and Classical Voice at the Juilliard School.

    Dallas is a church town – we always shout the room in Dallas…but the energy in the room last night wasn’t just “churchy”. It was spiritual, it was jovial, it was weighted with the spirits of my ancestors, Gran L, Granny Freddie, Grandpa EP, my Aunt JC, Granny Hartman, and all of our collective cloud of witnesses. It was a blessing, and continues to be a blessing performing the Abyssinian Mass. And to perform it in Dallas, Texas, with my family and friends in full cry was nothing but joy. Thank you Wynton, thank you Damien, thank you ancestors, thank you GOD. This music is home. Ashe and Amen.



    Today is a travel day to St. Louis, Missouri, the home town of our great friend, David Steward. We look forward to more uplifting with Jazz St. Louis at Touhill Performing Arts Center tomorrow night.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • There is nothing like driving through Texas with the pit boss, Frank Stewart.

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 | 0

    We played the Long Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Texas in Austin last night. At this point in the tour, all giddiness about being on the road is long gone. You are now well into the routine of travel-play, travel-play, and with an uncommonly large group, we all have to be much more aware of each other’s sensitivities.

    The everyday of passing through different parts of the country and interacting with a diversity of people, gives you a clearer perspective on how the stupidity in Congress is slowly sucking the optimism from our national vision. The deepening moral crisis makes the orchestra and choir, even if only instinctively, redouble our efforts to maintain morale by performing with integrity.

    The government’s dysfunction and its impending consequences make us more aware of the importance of working WITH each other and of our principal function: uplifting listeners.

    The great trombonist Andre Hayward sat in with us last night and played a rambunctious, gravy soaked solo at the end of “Invitation”. After the concert, I met the most beautiful group of about 9 high school freshman age trumpeters. They were so full of promise and feeling and asked such good questions that I left the hall very satisfied. From Andre to them, I felt like I was seeing former and future members all together at one moment in time.

    There is nothing like driving through Texas with the pit boss, Frank Stewart. You learn everything from the nature of birds of prey, to the story of Jim Bowie to the different ways to cut the strength of mesquite wood so as to not mess up your BBQ. He is a world of experience unto himself and a walking cultural institution, Mr. Frank Stewart:


    My youngest daughter, Bening, lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Derek, and 18-month old baby, Kayling. Living in New York, I don’t get to see them often, so it’s a treat whenever we are together. I spent the 7 hours in their home recuperating from the day’s events: waking up at 6:30am to hit the road on a barbeque excursion for a CBS Sunday Morning segment hosted by Wynton featuring the only full time BBQ critic in America, Daniel Vaughn and the Memphis Kid himself, me.

    We visited three different BBQ houses and ate shoulder clod, brisket of beef, pork spare ribs, different kinds of sausage, and prime rib all smoked indirectly with Post Oak. We waddled out of the last restaurant with the understanding that BBQ is cultural, colloquial and personal.

    At 6pm, we arrived at our hotel with just enough time to rush to the concert. At 7:30pm, I’m looking for a position with good sight lines to take pictures after helping the ladies of the choir onstage. Every hall is different. Every situation is different, and I never get tired of documenting the greatest Jazz orchestra in the world.

    I’m always looking for what Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’. That instant in which every form, gesture and look comes together in perfect harmony. My best photographs speak to three things: the subject, the medium and how I feel about the subject. I’m always looking for an image that will transcend the moment and provoke the viewer to ask personal questions about our times and quality of life.

    After the concert, Jay Sgroi, Eric Wright, Kay Niewood, Christi English, Ernie Gregory, Charles Bratton, me and celebrity sound man/straw boss David Robinson break down a stage that, moments before, held 85 people who were engaged in ‘making a joyful noise unto the Lord’. As he does almost every night, Wynton asks me, “How was it Frank?” I laugh and say, “What do you mean, man? It was glorious.”



    Tonight we perform at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas. It is a privilege to perform at this great cultural institution, founded by our good friend, Curtis King.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live

  • Every night is Carnegie Hall

    Posted on October 15th, 2013 | 0

    Last night’s performance at The Fountain of Praise in Houston, Texas was an act of soul. Pastor Remus Wright and his wife, Co-Pastor Mia K. Wright, stayed with us and created the proper atmosphere for the stomping, shouting and co-signing that is the hallmark of the Afro-American church experience, and also for appreciation of the introspective moments, the nuanced shadings in ensemble playing and in Damien’s shaping of the choral dynamics. The choir surrounded us. We were enveloped in their warmth and intention, and the congregation lifted us and carried us all in a chariot of feeling.

    My man David Kirk came tonight. He has played tuba with the Houston Philharmonic for 32 years. We attended Juilliard together as 18 year olds. I loved him, Alabama and Louisiana, two southern boys representing up North. He could play then and is otherworldly now. I heard the orchestra play Shostakovich 11 in Carnegie Hall last year and they turned it completely out.

    Nicole Phifer called out the Holy Ghost. And She was everywhere in the House.

    Today we’re going to hear from a man who works dawn to dusk to make sure our shows look and sound right. He is meticulous about all of the cues and is even out here with the scores to make sure he is on top of all of the entrances. We could not hope for someone as dedicated to the quality and mission of our music. He is a true believer in swinging and in raising the human condition through excellence. He is Mr. David Robinson:


    “Every night is Carnegie Hall.”

    That’s how the great Joe Williams said Count Basie approached every gig. It doesn’t matter where you are playing, or who you’re playing for – give it your best effort.

    This has been my guiding principle towards concert production since November 29, 1989 at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. It was the first gig I worked. Billy Banks was there showing me the ropes, “Watch what I do, keep your mouth shut, and pay attention to the band.”

    I did.

    Our music is there to be heard as the musicians intend it. Subtle and sweet. Or raucous and rough. Let it speak in its true tone and timbre. Be it the woodiness of Carlos’s bass, or the metallic overtones of Ali’s cymbal. Give it its true character. Work at finding the vocal effect in Chris’s Harmon mute. Pull Sherman’s lead alto voice out of the sax section. Not too much, but just enough to show them who’s leading who. Ryan is Gabriel. Give him domain over the brass. Clarion and clear. Strong and sure.

    Let the music speak for itself. No showy lights or garish effects. Elegant sophistication. MAKE IT PLAIN.
    That’s what I’m here to do. Every night, 8:00pm, all over the world.



    Today we head to Austin to perform at The Long Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Texas. We look forward to another night of uplifting.


    “Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live — with Jazz at Lincoln Center and 2 others.

  • New Orleans, the home of soul

    Posted on October 14th, 2013 | 0

    Last night we played New Orleans, the home of soul. We were the last performance of a two and a half week opening of the refurbished Saenger Theatre that featured 8 different shows – a lot of work! The attendance was underwhelming, but the reception was enthusiastic. Poppy Tooker brought the trumpet section some of her world famous gumbo and we quietly devoured it. I can’t name all of the great musicians and artists that came last night, and the choir sang their hearts out. I was very proud to be up there with them. They showed a lot of integrity and resilience. As always, the orchestra, with many members having been raised by parents who played real jazz, played the music with deep dedication. Our trombone section played as if they had something to prove last night. Whatever it was, they proved it.

    Today, we’re going to hear from a man that grew up in the Big Easy. A master teacher of music and math, Saint Augustine High School alumnus, past member of the Jesuit Elementary School Honor Band, master tactician in pick-up games, possessor of a boudoir tenor sound and a clear ringing Crescent City Creole clarinet style that reaches back to Alphonse Picou, Mr. Victor Goines:


    Celebration, Music and Food!!!

    These three words are often associated with New Orleans. Our stop here on Saturday and the performance last night provided an opportunity for everyone associated with this Mass – Chorale Le Chateau, Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and the audience – to be fed and nourished in the communal celebration of something historic.

    Gumbo is better on the second day, and so is the Abyssinian Mass. The seasonings and ingredients of the music have had an opportunity to settle through repeated performances, and the ensembles are becoming indivisible as we become more familiar with the work and each other. Everyone has become more interactive, adventurous and committed to this piece, just as Wynton was in its creation. By the end of this tour, I think this could be JALC’s most successful and fulfilling artistic collaboration.

    The audience at the Saenger was not as plentiful as we would have hoped, but it was as powerful and appreciative as everyone would have expected. As I was leaving the theatre, I ran into a long-time educator from New Orleans and a person deeply committed to American culture, Ms. Lorraine Wilson. What she said touched me deeply and stays with me. She said, “This work is fantastic and you all performed it wonderfully. It moved me in such an emotional way that it brought tears to my eyes. When I die, I want you to tell them they don’t have to have a ceremony or anything like that for me – just play the music of the Abyssinian Mass to send me home!!!”



    We are heading to Houston for a performance this evening at The Fountain of Praise. Tonight will be the last of three church performances on this tour and we want to express our deep appreciation to Pastor Remus E. Wright and Co-Pastor Mia K. Wright for welcoming us into their home.