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Rise up

For more than 30 years, trumpeter, composer, bandleader, advocate for the arts, and educator Wynton Marsalis has helped propel jazz to the forefront of American culture.

In 1997, Marsalis was the first jazz artist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for his work, “Blood on the Fields,” and he’s been instrumental in keeping jazz on the mind of all generations. Today, he serves as the director of jazz studies at the Juilliard School and is managing and artistic director of jazz at Lincoln Center.

On Feb. 24 and Feb. 26, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will perform Wynton Marsalis’ work, “All Rise” under the baton of William Eddins at the Strathmore. Marsalis and the orchestra will be joined on stage by the Morgan State University Gospel Choir, the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

“It’s a really big piece. It has over 100 voices [in the] choir, a full symphony orchestra and full jazz band,” Marsalis said. “It’s the integration of a lot of different forms of music and represents our humanity over time. It’s all about people coming together. It will be uplifting and I think people will feel much better when they leave about what we’re dealing with in our country at this time.”

Because it’s such a large undertaking, the piece isn’t performed too often, but Marsalis noted it has received tremendous acclaim in those instances where it has been played. The jazz great wrote “All Rise” in 1999 as a commissioned piece for the New York Philharmonic.

“Kurt Masur, who was maestro of the New York Philharmonic at the time, asked me to write a piece for the turn of the Millennium which would bring together the strain of Afro-music and Anglo-music that was represented in the tradition of Gershwin and Bernstein,” Marsalis said. “I started to think about it, and decided to write this music of all people coming together.”

He fleshed out his thoughts musically and the result was something spectacular.

“It’s a cycle of things we do. We’re born in joy, we play, we fall in love, we get full of ourselves, we suffer, we beg forgiveness and for mercy, it is granted, then we’re reborn, fall deeper in love and reach a higher level of consciousness,” Marsalis said. “It uses a 12-step form, describing what we do when we reach attainment.”

Having so much musical power on the stage at one time is something that Marsalis loves to see and hear.

“I remember the first time we did a rehearsal and I thought, ‘man, that’s a lot of adults’ and to see so many people playing together has an emotional impact on its own,” he said. “We have close to 180 people and it’s amazing.”

Marsalis first started studying the trumpet seriously at age 12, and gained experience as a young musician in local marching bands, jazz and funk bands, and classical youth orchestras.

“I didn’t like it at first because I didn’t want that ugly ring around my lips that all the New Orleans trumpet players had,” he said. “I told my dad, ‘girls aren’t going to like me.’ But I started listening to Coltrane and Miles and different jazz musicians and I started practicing and studying.”

His father was a jazz musician so he would often travel with him to gigs and watch the musicians play. By the time Marsalis was in high school, he was one of the best players in the area and would play funk and jazz gigs.

“My life was so indelibly shaped by watching my father play for almost no people for a very long time, I never go in front of any people anywhere and don’t think what a blessing it is,” Marsalis said. “Even if I’m in front of elementary school kids, I’m playing my horn the best I can play it.”

Musical education is important to Marsalis, and he heads a collection of 12 different educational programs at Jazz Lincoln Center.

“I’m teaching kids all the time and we’ll do over 200 concerts in New York City alone this year,” he said. “It’s important to introduce the music to as many young kids as we can.”

Marsalis has a big year ahead. In addition to performing “All Rise” at several venues, he is involved with the Lincoln Center’s big band, concert series, record company and education.

“I’m constantly engaged in music and trying to be a part of everything that goes on,” he said.

Keith Loria
Source: Fairfax County Times

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