The Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra concert was a joyous event filled with great and varying types of music. Marsalis mentioned in the convocation he delivered earlier in the day that, for him, everything was influenced by the blues, and for his first piece, that much was obvious. Entitled “Back to Basics,” it began with Marsalis growling with a plunger mute in a dirty-blues influenced style. “Back to Basics” featured every horn player in the band and was full of improvisation, which gave it a free feeling as everyone wailed and had a great time. Ironically titled because it harkens back to the era of Duke Ellington, “Back to Basics” featured Marsalis playing in the style of Cootie Williams, a jazz great with whom all of the freshmen are undoubtedly acquainted. Marsalis likes to make his horn sound like a human voice, and for his first piece, the trumpet sounded like someone laughing.
The second piece performed was a Duke Ellington waltz called “Lady Mac,” from Such Sweet Thunder. It showcased the beautiful and rich sound the ensemble could achieve, and the group was playing perfectly together. Everyone listened to each other and reacted accordingly, highly exaggerating their louds and softs to draw the audience into the music.
“Eleanor,” an extremely fast blues piece, was written by the great Dizzy Gillespie. The trumpet shakes were executed so tightly and so perfectly, that, in the words of Lawrence trumpeter Nick Siegel: “The trumpets had a fat shake!” The solos in the piece were also very creative. They began with the altoist Wessel “Warmdaddy” Anderson, who phrased his solo so creatively, you never wanted it to end because his ideas on standard blues were so fresh. The trumpets played a Dizzy-esque solo that was fast, high, and so perfect that it was breathtaking.
The other Dizzy-esque tune the band performed was “Things to Come.” The rhythm section was amazing, and the drummer and the bass player were so good together that even when they played extremely loose and free with the tempo it was still right in the pocket. The drummer reacted to everything and incorporated it into his own playing. Some of the most sensitive playing in a big band that I’ve ever heard behind a soloist resulted from this awareness in a drummer.
The band also played some of Marsalis’ original pieces from his “Victoria Suite.” They were more harmonically adventurous, with two keys played against each other simultaneously, like in “The Big Train.” It forced the audience to really listen to what was going on. This was resolved toward the end when the band started to sing about the big train and made it very fun and almost like a spiritual.
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra also played Dixie-influenced pieces like King Oliver’s “Snake Rag.” It was great because all the members of the band looked as though they were having the time of their lives. It was inspiring to watch. Marsalis had a smile on his face that showed there was nothing he would rather be doing.
The last tune for the encore was “Embraceable You,” and Marsalis put everything he had into the song, and it was beautiful, like a sunny and colorful fall day. Warmdaddy took a solo as well, and although he was a little out of tune he was very expressive. Warmdaddy also showed his talents with the beautiful ballad “Alone Together,” which had a sound to reckon with.
The concert was a great experience because Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performed different styles of jazz with an amazing amount of sensitive energy.