Branford, Wynton Marsalis share stage for Jazz St. Louis gala thanks to lifelong friend Victor Goines

At the root of Swing for Tomorrow’s stars – the two-day star-studded extravaganza of a fundraising gala for Jazz St. Louis – is an honored promise.

“This event came about because when I was selected to be President and CEO of Jazz St. Louis back in August of 2022, I was encouraged by Wynton [Marsalis] to consider myself for the position,” said Victor Goines. “One of my stipulations [to him] was, ‘If I go to Jazz St. Louis, you are going to have to do a gala for me.’” And without hesitation, he accepted.”

Goines is now entering his second year at the helm of the globally recognized organization. The rich legacy of jazz and shared French heritage instantly connected the New Orleans native to our region.

“The first thing I noticed when I arrived in St. Louis was the fleur-de-lis,” Goines said. “When I saw it, I said, ‘oh, this is just like home.’ We share the Mississippi River too – and people have been going up and down that river since the birth of jazz. So, to bring this event together like this was a no brainer in fact.”

Once the seed for Swing for Tomorrow’s Stars was planted, it bloomed into something magical. Wynton Marsalis and his big brother Branford will share the stage in a co-headlining capacity for the first time in more than three decades. St. Louis’ own David Sanborn will be honored for a lifetime commitment to jazz. Comedian, actor and St. Louis native Joe Torry will serve as master of ceremonies.

“I am over the moon about this particular event,” Goines said. “It has been truly a thrill to be involved in it and it has been evolving day to day.” Tickets for the performance at the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz on February 21st have sold out.

“It is going to involve two of our legends in jazz – Branford and Wynton Marsalis – coming to a place they have visited throughout their entire career to actually help us raise resources for tomorrow’s stars,” Goines said.

The ties that bind the Marsalis brothers to the region have super strength – particularly with Wynton.

“In fact, it was in 2014 when the renovations of Jazz St. Louis took place. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – which I am a member of – came here as part of that celebration. This is just an extension of that,” Goines said. “And then if you go all the way back to Lincoln High School in East St. Louis when Ron Carter was the band director, it was a regular stop on Wynton’s tours coming through St. Louis.”

The Jazz St. Louis bond is made even stronger through Goines. “Wynton and I went to kindergarten together,” he said. “Branford has been an inspiration to me for my entire life as a saxophonist and clarinetist.” And for the past 30-plus years, Goines has shared the bandstand with Wynton as a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Both jazz giants in their own right, the musical styles of Branford and Wynton can vary like night and day. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra pays homage to the big band and swing era. Wynton directs them and curates their music in a manner that jazz purists truly appreciate. Older brother Branford helped usher in a new era for the art form with the infusion of hip hop, most famously through his pioneering collective Buckshot LeFonque – which featured East St. Louis’ own Russell Gunn on trumpet.

“Jazz is one of those things that allows you to realize that you can have people growing up in the same household, and come from the same upbringing and go in various directions,” Goines said. “Jazz is an art form that allows you to express your individuality.

Some of his fondest musical memories include the occasions where Branford and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra would have intersecting tour schedules. Whenever they were both in the same city, Goines would encourage Branford to join in with Wynton.

I am always asking them, ‘Y’all play something together so we can see where it’s going to go,’” Goines said. “We all have sibling rivalry, but at the same time they have sibling type of love for each other. When they play, you can hear the history of the legacy of their mother, their father, the family, our city, their study. Their differences actually bring them back to their similarities.”

Goines calls the Marsalis brothers two of the most creative musicians of our time.

“If you ever had the chance to hear them play together, you know that no two have ever played together like them,” Goines said. “Being from New Orleans, the root of our music is collective improvisation.”

Their father, the late famed music educator Ellis Marsalis Jr. gets much of the credit for their respective careers. Goines says that their mother Delores Marsalis also played a major role.

“Mr. Marsalis influenced them so much – not only musically, but as educators,” Goines said. “And Mrs. Marsalis was brilliant. She had six sons, so she had to be brilliant – and she had to improvise. She was just a phenomenal woman who cannot be left out of the ingredients that made these two young men who they are today.”

A huge part of the Marsalis DNA is being keepers of jazz music’s flame – and paying their time and talents forward for the sake of the genre’s future generations.

“As an organization, we are heading towards our north star and we do not have time to waste,” Goines said. “Through funds raised from the gala, the students of our community will have an opportunity not to just study music – but to be involved in programs that will help them become great learners, great thinkers and great leaders for America and for the world.”

Source: The St. Louis American

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