Marsalis has a kick with kids

Sophisticated jazz isn’t for adults only, as Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra clearly established over the weekend at Symphony Center.

The occasion of Marsalis, the leading jazz musician of his generation, sharing the stage with at least 30 kids from the audience — and trying to teach them the basics of improvisation — had to be seen to be believed.

One of the youngsters hid underneath Marsalis’ suit jacket and followed him around the stage. Others sang, scatted and screeched into the microphone, with Marsalis apparently savoring every bit of it.

The event was “Jazz for Young People,” a Saturday morning concert that drew an overflow crowd. Like the young people’s concerts that Marsalis and the band present in their home base in New York, this one addressed a specific question: “Who is Louis Armstrong?”

But rather than merely recite a lecture on the great Satchmo, Marsalis and friends demonstrated Armstrong’s techniques, then explained them in surprising detail. Before the morning was over, the kids learned the meaning of a “break” (a brief solo), witnessed the musical rituals of a New Orleans jazz funeral and tried to master a list of Armstrong’s nicknames (“Satchmo,” “Dippermouth,” “Pops”).

It was the demonstration of a “break” that lured a throng of kids onto the stage, though Marsalis had asked for just half a dozen. But while the band vamped, every youngster in line had a chance to sing, swing or yell into the microphone.

But there was serious musicmaking in this session, as well. In performing “Snake Rag,” the band showed how the pros can pack a hugeamount of information into a four-bar solo. And in “Didn’t He Ramble” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Marsalis and the band displayed New Orleans counterpoint with a degree of polish and precision it does not often receive.

Without a trace of condescension, Marsalis and the LCJO made jazz utterly accessible to youngsters. Of all the work that the LCJO does to champion the music, nothing is more important or more disarming than the “Jazz for Young People” concerts.

by Howard Reich
Source: Chicago Tribune

« Previous Entry

Next Entry »