Kerns: LSO sponsors unforgettable show by Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

It may have taken a touch of clever marketing — a few unexpected BOGO (buy one, get one free) days — to guarantee a music lover for every seat at Monday’s concert at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center. Afterward, all present were standing, applauding and undoubtedly grateful that the sponsoring Lubbock Symphony Orchestra had booked a rare appearance by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It was, at the least, a concert no one could forget.

To a large point, the show was sold on the name of nine-time Grammy Award-winning trumpet player, composer and recording artist Wynton Marsalis.

If that’s what it takes to attract music lovers across the country to the 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (which, yes, includes Marsalis), who can complain?

Monday’s audience figuratively exploded with appreciation, after already cheering literally countless times when introduced to incredible musicians who provided powerful solos when not expressing a common ground throughout the evening.

Marsalis was an entertaining emcee when not blowing his horn, in effect helping a marvelous visiting ensemble teach an entertaining class about the life of composer and band leader Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.

Looking sharp enough to draw blood with common grey suits and striped ties, members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra — let’s refer to it as the JLCO — appeared confident for good reason. This obviously was not their first rodeo.

Accented by the orchestra’s music, Marsalis provided facts about those who discovered Ellington, and how this musician gained a national profile, conquering venues such as the Cotton Club before expanding horizons to find influence in Europe and the Middle East, composing music influenced by gifted players from different cultures.

Quality was apparent early on, which allowed Marsalis to poke fun at himself, recalling when his father offered to take him to hear Ellington. Marsalis said he responded with, “Why would I want to go listen to something like that?” His no doubt disappointed dad left him at home. As the audience gasped, Marsalis concluded, “So make your kids come to concerts like this whether they want to or not.”

A funny line, sure, but Monday’s at times surprising and often powerful instrumentals had the ability to win over anyone, no matter the age.

Marsalis and the JLCO would try to expose listeners to five decades of Ellington, kicking things off with 1928′s “The Mooch.” It was easy to feel what Marsalis called a marriage of the era’s “sweet jazz” and “hot jazz from New Orleans” that had battled previously. It would not be the first time trombonist extraordinaire Chris Crenshaw would make his instrument seem to talk to listeners during the show. Clarinets never have sounded sweeter.

Marsalis introduced the ’30s with “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” composed and arranged by Ellington with contemporary trombonist Vincent Gardner setting his instrument aside while adding a scatapproach to Irving Mills’ lyrics. Monday found a wonderful intro provided by jazz pianist Dan Nimmer, drummer Charles Goold and Carlos Henriquez on standup bass.

And from there, Marsalis, seated with the trumpet crew on the back row, introduced “the classic of classics in Ellingtonia” — ”(Mood) Indigo.”

A highlight arrived with an Ellington composition which Marsalis claimed was played only once in the studio. One can just imagine the cheers back in 1938 in the Cotton Club when his band lit into the increased tempos of “Braggin’ in Brass,” a number Marsalis playfully described as “difficult for the trumpets and impossible for the trombones.” Monday’s ensemble obviously was up to the task.

The rhythms of Latin America could be heard within “Moving Over Cuba” from the 1940s, but Marsalis first pointed out the diversification of Ellington’s band, stating at one point that Puerto Rican trombonist and composer Juan Tizol “had to play with Duke in blackface.” That alone would be worth learning more about.

Ellington never fired anybody, according to Marsalis, but that did not stop him from hiring whiz kid double bassist Jimmy Blanton when he was just 21, perhaps knowing his present bassist could not keep up. The JLCO performed “Jack the Bear” as a tribute to Blanton — and to current bassist Henriquez — but Marsalis also pointed out a fraction of what Blanton accomplished before tuberculosis claimed his life at age 23.

There would be more. With less than two hours to teach, Marsalis and the JLCO introduced more names, such as Billy Strayhorn, also revealing how Ellington could include an Iranian call-to-prayer within a composition. They would close with Greg Tardy excelling on tenor saxophone during two of the eight parts of “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse,” which was recorded only three years before Ellington’s death in 1974 at age 75.

Also noted: Not once was Wynton Marsalis’ name mentioned on stage Monday, not even when he returned for a brief encore. Rather, he would say, “We are the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra”— and the true, undeniable stars throughout included trumpet players Marsalis, Kenney Rampton, Marcus Printup and Ryan Kisor; trombone section Crenshaw, Gardner and Elliot Mason; saxophonists/clarinetists Victor Goines, Ted Nash, Tardy, Sherman Irby and Paul Nedzela; Henriquez, bass; Goold, drums; and Nimmer, piano.

by William Kerns
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

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