Marsalis Shows Um Jazz Band A Lighter Touch
Wynton Marsalis walked onstage unannounced Saturday, at the end of a performance by the University of Miami faculty quintet. The music had been very good up to that point, and the sold-out audience at Gusman Hall on the university campus appreciated what it was hearing.
But when Marsalis strolled out, a huge spontaneous cheer erupted. Without saying a word, he lifted his trumpet to his lips and began to improvise a slow blues, with the quintet joining in. By the end, he had soared through a powerful solo, pinching notes into new shapes and adding to his reputation as the world’s most important jazz musician.
Marsalis spent a quiet, little-publicized week at the university, working with the UM Concert Jazz Band, which is regularly ranked as the best college jazz band in the nation. In the past the band, conducted by Whit Sidener, has concentrated on modern pieces, sometimes of questionable musical value. It has been a loud band as well, with every solo and section riff amplified.
Marsalis did not approach a microphone once during his solo, or during the rest of the concert. He had the bass player unplug his electronic pickup, the saxophonists played in lighter, more mellow tones, the brass players used a variety of mutes, and the entire band sounded quieter _ and better _ than it ever has before.
Marsalis introduced all-but-forgotten early jazz standards, such as Mahogany Hall Stomp, which Louis Armstrong played in the 1920s. Marsalis’ trumpet solo _ a compendium of difficult Satchmo riffs _ had the crowd roaring in approval. The band surged into an easy swing on Duke Ellington’s moody Black and Tan Fantasy and Count Basie’s Blue and Sentimental.
Marsalis conducted several of his own complex pieces, including two from his Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields. He played Duke Ellington’s All Heart from A Portrait of Ella with a moving purity of tone and musical intent. UM’s own George Petropoulos nearly matched Marsalis’ trumpet mastery with a gentle When It’s Sleepytime Down South.
Marsalis’ Renewing Vows brought the concert to a rousing close, with Gary Lindsay’s clarinet flying high above a driving five-beat rhythm. The audience immediately leaped up to its feet and brought Marsalis back for an encore of Boy Meets Horn, a bravura Ellington showpiece for trumpet.
In less than a week, Marsalis reshaped this student band, making the musicians swing harder and listen more closely to themselves than they ever had before. Returning to the basics made the band sound remarkably fresh. His example taught the musicians, the audience and _ let’s hope _ the faculty a powerful lesson in proportion and taste.
by Matt Schudel