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Big Train

JAZZ musicians all used to tour by train, and if Wynton had his way — here’s a little secret, he hates flying — they still would. With Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and the late 20th century’s big Trane — John Coltrane, that is — as spiritual engineers and conductors, Wynton and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra invite you to join their gang of rail riders on a journey that crisscrosses the landscape of America transported by its greatest art form, jazz.

Big Train

Album Info

Ensemble JLCO with Wynton Marsalis
Release Date July 1st, 1999
Recording Date December 20, 1998
Record Label Columbia / Sony Classical
Catalogue Number CK 69860
Formats CD, Digital Download
Genre Jazz at Lincoln Center Recordings

Track Listing

Track Length Preview
All Aboard 5:50 Play
Observation Car 5:05 Play
Union Pacific Big Boy 5:52 Play
Smokestack Shuffle 5:07 Play
Northbound-Southbound 2:50 Play
Dining Car 2:23 Play
Night Train 2:24 Play
Engine 6:38 Play
Bullet Train 3:50 Play
Sleeper Car 3:27 Play
Station Call 2:10 Play
The Caboose 7:08 Play

Liner Notes

The train, ripping through the tracks, it stops at the station, with a tilt to the right. It says “pssshhht” when it stops, like an old pressing machine in a factory. A few seconds later, a voice says “All Aboard!” I get on. It leaves. You can hear the “clink-clink, clink-clink” at a steady beat. At first, the movement of the train is soft and slow, then it gets faster. Now you can hear the “chug, chug, chug, chug” of the engine working.

A tunnel is ahead and soon the Big Train travels in complete darkness. For the first time the train moves at a smooth pace. Now the Big Train isn’t fast or slow, it is silent and for a second, I feel that I am alone.

The Train is out of the tunnel, “clink-clink, clink-clink, clink-clink, clink-clink.” The Train is slowing down. It stops at the next station. I get out. The doors close. The Train leaves, “chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, woo-ooh-woo,” and the whole process starts all over again. I will always remember “clink-clink, clink-clink.” The Big Train.

– Wynton Marsalis II



Always somewhere in the morning. Always some place else when it’s noon. Or just below noon or in the afternoon. Always anywhere at night. Big train. How big? Very big. Not tall. Deep. Very deep. The story goes in as many directions as the country goes. Tracks and tracks and tracks. You could step out of the Atlantic Ocean and get on the big train. You could step off the Pacific Coast and take a ride on the big train. Coming up from the south to Chicago, the big train put the river boat in its place. The big train couldn’t sink. But the train rocked. The big train rolled along. The red caps on the big train could carry drinks and not spill a drop as the cars shivered their way up the tracks. Once upon a time the rich people rode the big train and got on carrying all kinds of suitcases. Once upon a time the big train was the blues train and it carried people with trout sandwiches all the way out of New Orleans up to the revolutionary North. School teachers finished at college took the big train to where they would do battle with ignorance and bad manners or privilege and contempt. The rails for the big train were built in the steel mills. If the big train was a cargo train it could be like some kind of circus with each boxcar full of another act. Oh, the big train. Lord, have mercy. The big train. Track upon track upon track.


Somebody said he saw the big train in the sky and its color was blue.
Just up there above his head, just traveling on rails made of clouds, the big train.
An old woman remembered the big train having a golden rhythm;
that rhythm went with the tangerine sparks
that came off in smoke stack lightning
as the big train passed on through the night.

Big train, big train.
A little boy, while he was playing in the backyard,
heard the big train and its sounds lifted him up
like his mother did to nurse him when he was a baby.

Big train.
Some girl somewhere walking home from school and wondering
if she could ever would be beautiful, felt the power of the big train
and heard it move and began to dream of herself as a woman.
She got a hint of maturity right then. Oh, that was like a revelation.
Coming from the Big train.

On, those nights crossing America, big train moving, oh those nights,
so many lovers, so many newlyweds, so many who had been together
for years, so many children, then so many alone and thinking about who
they were in the place they left and who they would be in the place they were going to be as soon as the big train got them there.
So many wheels against the metal rails,
so many wheels against the metal rails,
so many rails made out of clouds, so many cars made out of blue sky
and coupled by air, so many hooting and whamming speed
against the distance, so much leisure as the big train seems to stand still
while the landscape moves along on its very own mission.
Big train, oh big train, oh big train.
Deliver me here, deliver me there.

Yes, the big train can deliver you as a stranger; the big train, oh
that big train, yes, seem like somebody said it, the big train
can get you known clean and clear for just so much as arriving.
That station can be a marker in history.
Whose bags are those? Did the porter say it was….
Where the red caps? Seem there is still a question.
Still one question when you let yourself open up and ask:
Somebody tell me, where, oh where, oh where
does the big smooth rough and tumble rumbling big train go?


When we get to where the there we’re looking for happens to be,
we always feel inside an invisible station,
maybe a spur on the big boot God wears all over heaven,
the sun become a rowel full of the big train’s tintinnabulation some carrying bags numbering as many as eleven others throwing away everything in order to know how it feels to be falsely free.

But the big train doesn’t care
because its job is to move
it doesn’t need fancy paint and it never worries about flair
all the big train does is go all the distance necessary for a groove


One time soon you will be in bed
and you will hear the big train
slicing a hole in the silence of the night
and through that hole, getting aboard in your head,
you will know the dreams, as pure or as sooty,
as the clean burst of a cloud or the burn of acid rain,
all the while hearing the big train chanting, Me, me, me.

Stanley Crouch


All compositions written by Wynton Marsalis
(Skayne’s Music/ASCAP)

Produced by Delfeayo Marsalis
Recorded at Masonic Grand Lodge, NY on December 20, 1998
Engineer: Patrick Smith
2nd Engineer: Aaron Spencer
Technical Assistant: Darby
Mixed at Signet Soundelux, Los Angeles
Engineer: Patrick Smith
Assistant: Jesse Eaton

For Jam

To obtain more wood sound from the bass, this album was recorded without usage of the dreaded bass direct.

Recorded Dolby SR analogue, edited on Sony 3348hr digital, mixed to Pro Tools 24-bit digital via Apogee AD 8000 converters.
Edited by Jalmus at the Park Hyatt, Suite 334, Los Angeles
Technicians: Brad Cobb & Ron Garrett
Equipment provided by Audio Affects
Bass Consultants: Marc Lombardo & Monk by 5
Piano provided by Steinway

Mastered by John Matousek at Masterworks, Los Angeles

Special Thanks: Victor Goines
Project Coordinator: Dennis Jeter

“Big Train” was commissioned by Jazz At Lincoln Center and premiered on March 19, 1998 at Alice Tully Hall.

The Management Ark
Santa Fe, MM – Princeton, NJ
Edward C. Arrendell II – Vernon H. Hammond III

Art Direction: Kiku
Design: Risa Noah
Jasper Photo: Arnold Turner
Interior Photography: Lee Crum

Wessell Anderson appears courtesy of Leaning House Records
Marcus Printup appears courtesy of Blue Note Records
Victor Goines appears courtesy of Rosemary Joseph Records
Joe Temperley appears courtesy of HEP Records
Ryan Kisor appears courtesy of Criss Cross
Rodney Whitaker appears courtesy of DIW Recordings