Marsalis Does Jazz, And Does It Well

TRUMPET virtuoso Wynton Marsalis returned to the Powell Hall stage Tuesday evening, but this time he wasn’t performing a Haydn or Hummel trumpet concerto with the St Louis Symphony.
Instead, Marsalis and his talented ensemble of musicians performed two excellent sets of what many regard as America’s most singular contribution to 20th-century music – Jazz.

Marsalis has earned high laurels for his work in both the jazz and classical fields, but he recently decided to forgo his classical work to concentrate on jazz. Judging by his performance at Powell Hall Tuesday, Marsalis is concentrating on jazz with a vengeance. I’ve seen Marsalis perform in St. Louis many times in the past 10 years, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sound so totally focused throughout an entire concert.

Backed by the fine rhythm section of bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley, both of whom grew up in the fertile world of New Orleans music, pianist Stephen Scott, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and sax players Herb Harris and Wes Anderson, Marsalis led the way through an opening set that featured a fine mix of originals and jazz standards.
Marsalis’ muted solo on “In the Court of King Oliver” was breathtaking, as was Gordon’s amazing trombone work on “In a Sentimental Mood.” Marsalis also paid tribute to the late Miles Davis with a rendition of Davis’ classic tune “So What.”
Despite their highly publicized differences, Marsalis’ performance made it obvious that he has great respect for Davis’ music. Marsalis didn’t attempt to mimic Davis’ distinctive lithe, subtle phrasing. Instead, his approach was true to his own personality, with a sure sense of swing subtly spiced with a New Orleans flavor.

The second set featured tenor sax player Todd Williams, a native of University City and a longtime member of Marsalis’ band, who sat in with the group. Williams was thrown into the spotlight immediately for the opening solo of “Majesty of the Blues,” and responded with a fiery solo that clearly illustrated why he’s one of the finest young sax players in the nation.
Williams and tenor player Herb Harris then dueled through a fine rendition of the Sonny Rollins standard “Tenor Madness.”

Harris, who replaced Williams in Marsalis’ group, proved that the tenor chair remains in fine hands with an excellent solo of his own. Despite the fact that Marsalis has lost both Williams and pianist Marcus Roberts during the past year, he continues to attract excellent young musicians, and continues to lead by example in his excellent jazz performances.

by Terry Perkins
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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