Wynton, Branford Marsalis will play rare concert together in St. Louis

Brothers Wynton and Branford Marsalis will join forces next Wednesday and Thursday for a pair of extremely rare performances together that will benefit Jazz St. Louis’ educational programs and community engagement events.

Victor Goines, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, a longtime member of Wynton’s band and lifetime friend of both brothers, will also perform.

But they’re not exactly sure just yet what they’re going to play.

“Whatever it is we do, it will be something that we know how to do,” Wynton says with a laugh.

Of course, they know how to do plenty. The Marsalis brothers and Goines have known each other since they were children growing up in New Orleans, playing in their elementary school honors band and being taught by Wynton and Branford’s father, the venerable jazz pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis.

“We have, what, 50 years (together)? And in the case of Branford and I, our whole lives,” Wynton says. “So we have a vocabulary that we’ve worked out over decades — an understanding of the music and the tradition and all of that.”

So don’t sweat the repertoire. Whatever they play, it’s bound to be great.

The two-night affair, titled Swing for Tomorrow’s Stars, begins on Wednesday, Feb. 21, with a performance in the intimate confines of Jazz St. Louis’ home base, the Harold & Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz. It’s a high-ticket affair that is already sold out. At press time, a few tickets remained for Thursday night’s concert which will be held at the Chase Park Plaza’s Khorassan Ballroom.

As part of the event, jazz great David Sanborn, who grew up in Kirkwood, will receive the inaugural Steward Center Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence.

Music programs are often the first things to get cut from school curricula, an unfortunate fact. Had they not existed when the Marsalises and Goines were young, “I probably wouldn’t be a musician right now,” Goines says. So Jazz St. Louis’ educational programs not only fill an important need, they are offered to students free of charge.

“When they finish their regular school in the daytime, we have a taxi cab pick them up and bring them to Jazz St. Louis,” Goines says. “They study here for four hours, we feed them at the end of the day, put them back in taxi cabs and send them home.

“It’s very important that we do this because it gives them a competitive edge to be able to go to the next level; to have the confidence and skill sets necessary to move on to be a musician from middle school to high school to college and begin to perform or pursue a career as a professional.”

Both Marsalis brothers are vocal about ensuring jazz gets its rightful place in the study of American culture and supporters of music education. Wynton is not only the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, but also director of jazz studies at the Juilliard School and president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. Three weeks ago, Branford was named artistic director for the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans. He’s also an artist in residence at North Carolina Central University.

Of jazz education, Wynton says, “I think the next step in the evolution of the music would be communities investing in institutions to say ‘This music is important. It’s from this country. There are objectives that it has that we would like to see magnified.’”

Wynton has come to the aid of music education in St. Louis for years, both formally and informally. He’s performed benefits at Jazz St. Louis and the Sheldon and also had a long relationship with Lincoln Senior High School in East St. Louis when Ron Carter was the jazz band director.

When Wynton was still a young player, he performed in St. Louis and was approached by Carter, whom he recalls saying, “Man, you gonna come to St. Louis and not come teach my trumpet players?” He replied, “Man, I’m 18. I’m damn near the age of your high school students.” But he did it and continued doing it for years.

Marsalis also reels off names of a dozen or so great St. Louis-area musicians, most of whom he’s known since they were students, including trumpeters Keyon Harrold, Russell Gunn and Jeremy Davenport. “I’ve seen so many great St. Louis musicians and had so many great experiences in St. Louis,” he says. ‘It’s very much a community. I’m with them, with the community. I’m with what goes on in St. Louis.”

Helping kids develop their skills is “how Victor and I grew up in New Orleans, with adults struggling to teach kids something — to strive for more,” he says.

Goines quotes Ellis Marsalis, who, as director of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, said, “We weren’t trying to teach music. We were just trying to teach students, and the music teaches them how to be better people.”

As the interview nears its end, Wynton demurs from talking up his own current projects and focuses back on the matter at hand. “What’s on my mind now is what we’re doing in St. Louis,” he says. “Tomorrow’s stars. We’re swinging for them.”
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by Daniel Durchholz
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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