Wynton Marsalis Shows His Ability As Innovator

ACCLAIMED trumpet player Wynton Marsalis displayed his incredible instrumental technique and talent for improvisation in a most appropriate setting Tuesday evening – a nightclub filled with appreciative jazz fans.
Marsalis, who has won seven Grammy awards in the last four years in both jazz and classical music categories (the only musician to achieve that unique combination), turned Mississippi Nights on Laclede’s Landing into a setting reminiscent of a New York City jazz club during the bebop era of the 1950s.

That bop atmosphere was emphasized by the presence of guest musician Charlie Rouse, whose jazz roots extend back to the Count Basie Octet of 1950 and who backed legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk for over a decade.

Fittingly, Rouse, Marsalis and the other members of Marsalis’ superb quartet – drummer Jeff Watts, bassist Bob Hurst and piano player Marcus Roberts began the evening with a Monk composition.

Marsalis has always been categorized as a jazz “purist” because his sound is largely based on the work of legendary bebop players such as Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown and vintage Miles Davis. Unlike many young jazz musicians, the 25-year-old Marsalis also works in a strictly acoustic format, disdaining the use of amplified bass or synthesized keyboards.

As a result, many in the jazz avant-garde have criticized Marsalis as a traditionalist rather than a pioneer in modern jazz. But Marsalis’ virtuoso display at Mississippi Nights proved that he is an innovator, putting clearly focused ideas to work within a great jazz tradition.

Perhaps this was best illustrated by the approach taken by Marsalis on “J-Ville,” a new composition by pianist Roberts. While the rhythm section of Hurst and Watts laid down a sturdy supporting beat, Marsalis’ trumpet floated from lightning-fast bop runs to long-held notes that led the band into increasingly complex time changes.

Rouse added a blues-drenched solo on tenor sax, and Roberts took the spotlight with some stunning keyboard work that was reminiscent of McCoy Tyner at his best. Somehow, these excellent musicians made the breathtaking complexities of the music flow smoothly from the beginning of the tune to the end

Wynton Marsalis may be working within the framework of jazz tradition, but he’s also managed to breathe new life into the genre and prove that it’s as vital today as it ever was. And in the process, he’s also proved that he’s going to be a major force in jazz for decades to come.

By Terry Perkins
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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