Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis bring festivity and swing to Athens
A group of men coolly and calmly walk out in black suits and red striped ties onto a stage decked out with Christmas trees, red ribbon and bright lights. Then, with a quick greeting from renowned jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, the concert begins.
On Tuesday night, Marsalis made a return to Athens for the first time in eight years. Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performed their Big Band Holidays concert at the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall for two back-to-back shows. Tuesday and Wednesday’s performances were highly anticipated as it was the first time the Big Band Holidays concert would be played in Athens.
After opening with a unique rendition of “Jingle Bells,” the crowd proved their excitement by sustaining a loud and long applause. This continued throughout the night when individual members of the orchestra had a moment to show their skills off.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is composed of 15 instrumentalists and is led by Marsalis who plays trumpet. Jazz at Lincoln Center opened in 2004 as the world’s first venue designated solely for jazz music, according to its website. Before its opening, the Lincoln Center hosted performances dating back to the ‘80s with the start of its classical jazz concert series, which Marsalis was a part of.
Today, Marsalis is the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The first album between the orchestra and Marsalis, “Portraits by Ellington,” was released in 1992 and honored the contributions of Duke Ellington to the genre. Since then, the orchestra and Marsalis have released several albums together, including the seasonal-themed “Big Band Holidays” in 2015 and “Big Band Holidays II” in 2019.
At Wednesday’s concert, the orchestra and Marsalis played holiday classics such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Singer Alita Moses joined the orchestra for performances of songs including “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” and “It’s Easy To Blame The Weather.” Several of the songs played were arranged by members of the orchestra.
Attendee David Register said the performance of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” was the best of the night.
“It was a very original arrangement. I really liked the tempo. It was an unexpected take on that song that we all think we know,” Register said.
The concert left another attendee Susan Bell excited for the holidays and eager to attend more events at Hugh Hodgson.
“It just encourages me to keep googling to see what’s going to be playing. Every time I come here, it encourages me not to forget about this place,” Bell said.
The Big Band Holidays shows in Athens were only two in a string of performances for the orchestra and Marsalis. The group is currently on tour and will perform their various compositions around the nation for the next six months. While this may sound tiring, it doesn’t faze Marsalis.
“I’m excited about playing. I’m always looking forward to playing because it’s a blessing to play. It doesn’t matter to me where I am,” Marsalis said. ”I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to play to whoever comes.”
by Libby Hobbs
Source: The Red & Black