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Wynton Marsalis, Lincoln Center crew evoke class and artistry of Ellington

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra offered up an unforgettable concert of creative, tight, thoroughly involving jazz at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall Wednesday evening,

Part of the completely disarming charm of this 15-piece big band is the fun they appear to be having.

It is a lesson in old-school class. The musicians warm up backstage and stroll casually to their chairs, wearing matching suits and shoes, to play a program that includes standards as well as compositions and arrangements written by band members.

If that sounds a bit Ellington-esque, it’s meant to. Marsalis explained that the band is continuing the legacy of Duke Ellington, adding that several of its founding members had been members of the original Ellington band.

This group plays with energy, style, extreme polish, a decided sense of fun, and obvious, clearly stated respect for each other, the musicians who came before them, and the young players coming up now.

Their section playing often sounds like one gorgeous, full voice that somehow manages to divide into beautifully blended and balanced harmonies.

When they take turns at solos — and everyone in the band takes multiple solos — it becomes apparent that each one of them has has own sound and musical style, and that each one is well-worth hearing multiple times.

Marsalis keeps a distinctly low profile on the stage, “fronting” the band from his seat in the trumpet section. He speaks about the tunes on the program, colleagues in the band (present and former), and some of the powerful history of the music they play.

Marsalis takes some wonderful solos as a member of the band. He and his fellow band members listen to their colleagues’ solos, some short and some extended, while nodding, grinning and occasionally calling out in support and appreciation.

Marsalis, pianist Dan Nimmer (a Greenfield High School graduate), bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Marion Felder closed the evening with a quick tune before, in response, a loud, well-deserved standing ovation.

The Beloit Memorial High School Jazz Orchestra, under director Chris Behrens, opened the concert. The fresh-faced ensemble, which has participated in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Essentially Ellington program six timers, delivered two stylish, well-played tunes for an appreciative audience.

by Elaine Schmidt
Source: The Journal Sentinel

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