Wynton Marsalis (AP Photo/Gary He, file)
Jazz ’round L.A.: Fans Get a Double Dose of Marsalis and Orchestra
By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
It takes two—two concerts, that is, to completely enjoy the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) under the artistic direction of Wynton Marsalis. In its infinite wisdom, the powers that be at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (WDCH) had the bright idea of double-booking Marsalis and the band—once, as part of the hall’s classical series, and a second time, its jazz series. And why shouldn’t they: After all, Marsalis is the first and only artist to win both the classical and jazz Grammys in the same year (1983).
So if they were able, Los Angeles-area fans had the distinct pleasure of experiencing one or both sides of one of jazz’s and classical music’s premier trumpeters and his music. Each concert gave a window into Marsalis’ irrepressible style—as a soloist, a band participant and a leader.
Wynton and the orchestra first took part in the classical concert series. Led by Leonard Slatkin (former principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (L.A. Phil), the 100-plus member orchestra opened with sterling performances of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Suite for Jazz Orchestra (No.1), then swung into George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”
But it was the 55-minute West Coast premiere of the “Swing Symphony (Symphony No. 3),” which the L.A. Phil commissioned Marsalis to write, that was the soaring triumph of the night. Over the last several years, the JLCO has collaborated with many of the top symphony orchestras in the world: the New York Phil, the Boston, Chicago and London symphony orchestras, and the Orchestra Esperimentale in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
On this night, they teamed up with the L.A. Phil. With the JLCO seated in the center of the hall’s performance space (and Marsalis sitting dead center within the orchestra), and then surrounded on all sides by the L.A. Phil, Marsalis’ symphony became a glorious celebration: strings searing, horns blaring and percussion instruments blasting.
At some points, there was a kind of call-and-response interplay between the two orchestras, as the structure of the symphony called for the interweaving of L.A. Phil classical violins with JLCO’s improvisational licks. Even more enthralling was hearing the two orchestras sync up to become a virtual guide through the history of swing, according to one of its greatest modern-day proponents—Marsalis—as “Swing Symphony” journeyed from ragtime to the Charleston, to Kansas City swing to bebop to however one defines jazz today.
Two days later, at the second concert—this one, part of the jazz series and therefore, without the L.A. Phil— the JLCO members singly filed out onto the stage and sat at their stations. All, that is, except Marsalis, who headed for the piano and, once there, burst into the fast flourishes of a bop piece before being joined by his young piano player, bassist and drummer.
It was big fun watching Marsalis have fun, be it when he soloed or when he seamlessly became just one of the boys, when he led or when he followed.
Whatever he did during the 10-plus song set, he was so totally immersed in what he was hearing and feeling that he seemed totally oblivious to anything else: He patted his feet to his own playing and that of others; he kept time by patting his hand on his knee; he emitted and emoted, and grunted at sounds he dug. And he smiled a lot, particularly at his younger charges—the pianist’s chords, the bassist’s licks and the drummer’s brushes—when each soloed with the vitality of a veteran.
As is traditional, the set ended by each of the band members soloing for several bars, ultimately demonstrating why they are 15 of the finest jazz soloists, ensemble players and educators today.
In September 2002, BET Jazz premiered a weekly series called “Journey with Jazz at Lincoln Center,” featuring performances by the orchestra around the world.
For true jazz enthusiasts, it’s definitely worth a listen.