Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Trumpeter and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director Wynton Marsalis marks a quarter century at the vanguard.

Wynton Marsalis (right) at the Higher Ground benefit concert in SeptemberFor 25 years, Wynton Marsalis has made his presence known in the world of jazz. As he has matured as a musician, he has also taken on more responsibilities. As an artist, Marsalis has honed his chops to a razor's edge. His dedication to America's original art form of jazz speaks volumes. Marsalis's commitment to improving people's lives through music and his contributions to the arts paint a portrait of his character and humanity. He is internationally respected as a teacher and as a spokesman for music education.

Last year's Grand Opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center's new home on Broadway at 60th Street, was a highlight in his career. The creation of Frederick P. Rose Hall has solidified a permanent performance facility for jazz music, and Marsalis tied it all together.

As a jazz musician, composer, bandleader, advocate for the arts, and educator, Marsalis has helped propel jazz music to the forefront of American culture. In April 1997, he became the first jazz artist ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for his work Blood on the Fields, which was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center. His work with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, as both music director and trumpeter, has included collaborations with the London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Russian National Orchestra, and the Orchestre Nacional de France.

As the Artistic Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center, he's worked with everyone from the Library of Congress and the Apollo Theater to the New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. An artist of great strength and fortitude, Marsalis's schedule has been magnified to include more ventures at Frederick P. Rose Hall, in addition to his international and national tours with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Born on October 18, 1961 in New Orleans, Wynton Marsalis is the second of six sons to Ellis and Dolores Marsalis. At six years of age, he was bitten by the stage bug when he performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band. Marsalis began studying the trumpet seriously at age 12 and played with local marching bands, jazz and funk bands, and classical youth orchestras.

In 1979 Marsalis entered The Juilliard School in New York City to study classical trumpet, but later that same year, he had the opportunity to sit in with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The rest is history. In 1980, he joined Blakey's legendary band and hit the road. In the years to follow, Marsalis was invited to play with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, Harry Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, and many more jazz legends.

Marsalis made his recording debut as a leader in 1982. Over the years, he has produced a catalogue of more than 40 jazz and classical recordings for Columbia Jazz and Sony Classical, which have won him nine Grammy Awards. In 1983, he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz Grammy Awards in one year, and repeated this feat in 1984. In 1999, he released eight new recordings in his unprecedented Swinging into the 21st series, which included a seven-CD boxed set of live performances from the Village Vanguard. Also in 1999, Marsalis presented All Rise, an epic composition for big band, gospel choir, and symphony orchestra, performed by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Kurt Masur along with the Morgan State University Choir and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. In 2003 Marsalis signed to Blue Note Records, and his debut CD, a quartet recording entitled The Magic Hour, hit the stores in March 2004.

This year alone, Marsalis has released the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's A Love Supreme (Palmetto Records), as well as Wynton Marsalis--Amongst the People--Live at the House of Tribes (Blue Note Records). This recording features him in an octet setting, allowing him the freedom to step out of the unified orchestra arrangements. Critics have praised this release, recorded December 15, 2002.

For his many achievements, Time magazine selected Marsalis as one of America's most promising leaders under age 40 in 1995 and, in 1996, as one of America's 25 most influential people. He was also named one of "The Most Influential Boomers" by Life magazine.

But perhaps his greatest achievement was recently realized. As a native son of New Orleans, Marsalis was instrumental in organizing Jazz at Lincoln Center's September 17, 2005, Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert and Auction, which featured an array of legendary jazz artists and renowned actors. Hosted by Laurence Fishburne, the multi-hour program was televised nationally on PBS and BET Jazz, and broadcast on National Public Radio and XM Satellite Radio. Overall, the event raised more than $2 million which will help those individuals and families evacuated from the greater New Orleans area as they address immediate concerns related to housing, food, education, health care, and basic survival necessities

Marsalis continues to tour the world with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He continues to raise the roof at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. And he continues to raise the spirits of fellow Americans with his music and his words.

Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director-Public Relations for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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