Roots and rites of swing from Wynton Marsalis
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, as the old aphorism has it, but Wynton Marsalis is pushing it a stage further. United in Swing, described as the Barbican’s first international residency, involves his orchestra in a hectic schedule of concerts, jam sessions and education projects in east London, based on the notion that, given encouragement and expert tuition, any kind of people can swing. And there, reluctantly, we must part company.
The noise of youthful students sawing away on the Barbican freestage last night was almost excruciating enough to scare listeners away from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s opening concert. This was music only a doting parent or guardian could love, but maybe that’s not the point. Even if this brilliant US trumpeter-bandleader-educator and his 15-piece repertory orchestra fail to turn up one child with real jazz talent, any initiative that gets the sound of jazz into schools, especially problem schools, must be a Good Thing.
Children need heroes, but this music is something they will never have heard before. Last night’s theme was Swinging Beginnings, with scores from Jelly Roll Morton and the dawn of New Orleans through early Ellington to Benny Goodman and the height of the Swing era just before the Second World War.
Two British guest stars, violinist Chris Garrick (Mood Indigo) and vocalist Elaine Delmar (I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good) deserved their patriotic cheers, as did the LCJO’s resident Brits — baritone saxman Joe Temperley, from Fife, and Derby-born trombonist Eliot Mason, who took one of the most rousing solos of the evening.
Wynton himself was on good form, taking most of the trumpet solos, especially those calling for funky smears and growls, and sprinkling his announcements with informative asides and laid-back Southern charm. Enviously he pointed out that Temperley was the only musician present who had actually worked with the Duke Ellington orchestra. And later, introducing Blue and Sentimental, he described its writer Eddie Durham as “the most underrated jazz musician of the 20th century. An excellent guitarist, he taught Charlie Christian to play, he also played fine trombone and wrote great arrangements, including the best-selling swing instrumental ever, Glenn Miller’s version of In the Mood.”
As we made for home, hardier souls were heading for an all-star jam session at the Vortex involving Tomorrow’s Warriors and the LCJO’s Eliot Mason and trumpeter Ryan Kisor. Tonight’s Barbican concert is themed Bebop and Beyond, with six UK guests including Soweto Kinch, Peter King and Alex Wilson, and there are four more LCJO events over the weekend, including a free concert in Victoria Park (tomorrow 3.50pm) and two shows at the Hackney Empire (Sunday, 3pm and 7.30pm). It’s sure going to seem quiet when they all fly back to New York.
– by Jack Massarik
Source: Evening Standard