‘Reclaim the soul of our nation’: Wynton Marsalis brings The Sounds of Democracy on tour

Wynton Marsalis knows America.

“I’ve been blessed to be on the road in our country since 1980, so that’s 40 years now, and I stay after every gig and talk to every person, all over the country,” said the legendary trumpeter and band leader. “I’m afraid to fly, so I drive most places. And I have a faith in our people because I’ve met so many people in so many places.”

Marsalis — the nine-time Grammy winning, New Orleans-native composer and managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City — knows the country is going to through hard times. He is ready to get back on the road and play for the people.

“We’re struggling now, and life is sometimes a struggle — as it is for a person, it’s also that way for a nation. We’re being tested, and we should be tested. We’ve done unintelligent things, and we have to correct things that we’ve done. We need to reclaim the soul of our nation so we’re battling the way that we’re doing.

“And I feel great about being in front of people, playing music, talking to them. And we’re going to do what we’ve always done, and I’m going to do what I’ve always done. I’ve tried to be honest with all of my fans and people the entire time I’ve been out here, and I’ve been blessed to have really great fans and supporters who stay with our music even though it’s not the most popular thing in the world.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic brought live entertainment, along with every other aspect of life, to a halt this spring, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet are returning to the road this fall.

They will play a benefit for the Cape May Jazz Festival Foundation on the grounds of the Emleyn Physick Estate in Cape May on Thursday, Oct. 1, followed by a performance as part of the Concerts in the Garden series at Blu Grotto Ristorante at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, presented by UMT Presents and The Basie Presents.

Marsalis and the Septet — Walter Blanding (tenor saxophone), Ted Nash (alto saxophone), Elliot Mason (trombone), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez ( bass) and Obed Calvaire (drums) — will be returning to the road with “The Sound of Democracy,” a repertoire of material focused on the themes of democracy and freedom.

In addition to selections that may include John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” a movement from Marsalis’ “Integrity Suite” and works and arrangements by Septet members, “The Sound of Democracy” will also include “Democracy! Suite,” a new, eight-part Marsalis composition inspired by our current climate.

Pieces in Marsalis’ “Democracy! Suite” include “Deeper Than Dreams,” about those who’ve lost loved ones during this time, and “That Dance We Do,” inspired by the drum beats and grooves he’s heard in footage of protests in New York City and around the world.

“This piece is topical because it is written about right now, which (is different because) my pieces generally are not topical,” Marsalis said. “I’m not a topical kind of (writer): ‘I broke up with somebody, this is a song about me losing my love,’ you know? I’m more about ‘People get their hearts broken, this is a song about the pain of that.’

“But in this case it is polemical but it does not take a political perspective of the left or the right because I don’t believe that’s our problem right now. The left and the right have very fundamental things they agree upon that affect the way we live, and that’s the things we need to correct. Things like corruption — you can go any way you want, you’re going to find that. So I want to look at that. I don’t want to look at how you’re going to rob me. I want to look at how I’m going to stop you from robbing me.”

“Democracy! Suite” follows the August release of Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’ grand epic “The Ever Fonky Lowdown.”

A digital exclusive from Blue Engine Records clocking in at nearly two hours, “The Ever Fonky Lowdown” looks at the societal ills of racial injustice, economic inequality, xenophobia and predatory populism.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Marsalis wrote and premiered his “Lowdown” in 2018, and while its messages sound tailor-made for this moment, Marsalis is playing on a broader frequency. Just as the piece’s titular motif is recast, time and again, in different time signatures and grooves, so to do these issues transcend any one nation or century.

“‘The Ever Fonky’ is different (than ‘Democracy! Suite’) because it is not about American politics,” Marsalis said, “as much as it is about human beings and universal humanism.”

Go: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet with Wynton Marsalis, doors at noon and show at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at Blu Grotto Ristorante, 200 Port Au Peck Ave., Oceanport, $59 to $99; for tickets and social distancing guidelines, visit

Other upcoming area live dates for Wynton Marsalis include:

  • 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, Cape May Jazz Festival Foundation with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., Cape May, $65 to $250.
  • 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, with the Young Stars of Jazz, Dizzy’s Club, 10 Columbus Circle, New York, $10 suggested ticket price.
  • 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, “Voices of Freedom: Betty Carter, Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, and Nina Simone” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Mayo Performing Arts Center, 100 South St., Morristown, $59 to $99.
  • 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, and Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, “Voices of Freedom,” Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at West 60th St., New York.
  • 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, and Saturday, Feb. 27, “The Music of Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Charlie Haden” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York.
  • 8 p.m. Friday, April 2, and Saturday, April 3, “Freedom, Justice and Hope” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and special guest Bryan Stevenson at Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York.
  • 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 11, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Academy of Music, 240 South Broad St., Philadelphia, $55 to $95.
  • 8 p.m. Friday, April 16, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Matthews Theater at McCarter Theater Center, 91 University Place, Princeton.
  • 8 p.m. Thursday, May 20, through Saturday, May 22, “God Bless America” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York City.
  • 8 p.m. Friday, June 11, and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 12, “Coltrane: A Love Supreme” with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York City.

For tickets and details, visit

Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.

by Alex Biese
Source: Asbury Park Press

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