With Feeling – Wynton Marsalis Jazzes Up Christmas For The Kids

Posted on December 12th, 2004 in Profiles & Interviews | Tags: education, jazz at lincoln center, kids, new york, new york post, suite for human nature

Wynton Marsalis is the dean of contemporary American jazz. Besides his numerous artistic accomplishments as the chief of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – the pre-eminent jazz band in the land – this year the trumpet master saw one of his life goals come to fruition: a permanent home for Jazz At Lincoln Center in the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.

Like Marsalis’ music, the three-theater hall is spectacular acoustically and visually.

Speaking to The Post from his office in the new digs, Marsalis was modest about just how good the Rose Theater sounds.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’m not prepared to say we have the best sound, but we do have the best sound for jazz. Time will be the judge of the hall. There are some great [stages] in the world, and I respect them too much to make an off-the-cuff statement that we’re tops.”

Others, like the great crooner Tony Bennett who did a weeklong residency at the Rose Theater, were less cautious.

“Beautiful” was Bennett’s one-word assessment of the acoustics after he gave the joint a shakedown with an a cappella, un-amplified rendition of “Fly Me To the Moon” last week.

Marsalis, who’s been gigging in all the center’s venues from the big room to its intimate club, Dizzy’s, will unveil his new holiday composition “Suite for Human Nature” at the Rose next week. The composition with libretto by Diane Lampert is a decade in the making and takes its first bow at Friday’s premiere in Washington, D.C.’s historic Lincoln Theater.

Living up to his word that this is a theater for all of New York, Marsalis set tickets prices for these concerts (Dec. 16-20) from $10 to $150.

There are so many holiday concert programs. What sets this one apart?

This is kids music. We do so many young people’s concerts. We’re teaching kids [about music] all the time. This is a show that isn’t too long with solos that would bore a kid. And we have kids performing in the piece, and that’ll get the kids in the audience to participate.

This isn’t a show with loads of costumes and holiday sets. It’s about music, and the kids won’t be bored?

No. We designed the music to have lots of colors and lots of interesting uses of the instruments. I want a kid to hear the baritone sax, or a tuba, or a piccolo and say “Wow.”

This isn’t just an instrumental piece.

It’s a fable set to music.

What’s the plot?

Mother Nature and Father Time get together and have kids. Those kids are Greed, Envy and Hate. The Four Winds tell them, “Y’all not making kids the right way.” Then they try to make a kid with the qualities of the Winds and have a child called Love.

Love conquers all?

Love is so small, Greed can’t be greedy around her. Love is so inconspicuous, Envy has nothing to envy.

The narrator will tell that story. How will the musicians convey these characters?

Instruments have different characteristics, like Fear is a piccolo to me.

Why?

It’s way up here (Marsalis scats a few falsetto notes.) Piccolo is always way up, out of the way, like a little bird. Little things are afraid of big things. That’s how the piccolo became Fear. Envy is the tuba, because it always wants to do what the other instruments are doing and it can’t.

You play the trumpet.

The trumpet is Greed. The trumpet wants to play louder than everybody, he wants to play in the clarinet’s register; he wants to play down where the trombone is. He wants everyone to look at him.

Were you inspired by the symphony “Peter and the Wolf,” where instrumental voices become the animal characters?

Sure, it was in the back of my mind because that piece of music was a part of my growing up, but that could be said for most of the musicians working on this. It is like “Peter and the Wolf” – and it isn’t.

What do you mean by that?

That is such a phenomenal piece of music and weds modern musical language with ideology. We use more musical themes in the suite.

This sounds like a show that might be beyond most kids.

I don’t think so. When you hear it, it’s plain. I went out of my way to make the music very clear. Nuts ‘n’ bolts music.

Why the Boys Choir of Harlem?

They’re excellent, and I’ve wanted to work with them. I think kids want to see other kids do things. Kids don’t mind looking at adults, but they really like seeing other kids their age doing stuff.

by Dan Aquilante
Source: New York Post