Marsalis, Wynton

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Marsalis, Wynton

Wynton Marsalis (märsăl´Ĭs), 1961–, American trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, b. New Orleans. Born into a distinguished jazz family, he studied classical music at the Juilliard School in New York. He joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at 18 and rapidly acquired a reputation for brilliant technique and outstanding improvisational talent. In 1982 he formed his own quintet, which included his brother Branford; it became a septet in 1988 and disbanded in 1994. Marsalis also became known for his classical performances, winning Grammies in both categories.

Articulate and outspoken, Wynton Marsalis emerged as a leading spokesman for jazz as well as one of the leading jazz musicians of the 1980s and 90s. When the jazz program at New York's Lincoln Center was initiated in 1991, he was appointed artistic director, a post he has held since. Also an active music educator, he wrote, hosted, and performed in a Public Broadcasting series (1995) on the essentials of classical music and jazz. Marsalis won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for music for his jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields; he was the first jazz musician to receive the award. He has also written a monumental orchestral and choral piece with numerous jazz elements entitled All Rise (2000) and a jazz mass, Abyssinian 200 (2008), which incorporates orchestral music, gospel anthems, prayers, and a sermon.

See biography by L. Gourse (1999).



His older brother, Branford Marsalis, 1960–, b. New Orleans, is a brilliant jazz, rock, pop, and classical saxophonist, a bandleader, and a composer. He attended Boston's Berklee College of Music. Like his brother, he played with the Jazz Messengers and is known for his superb technique and especially for his improvisations. Also noted for his versatility, Branford played with the rock musician Sting during the 1980s and was the music director (1992–94) of television's Tonight Show.

Their younger brother Delfeayo Marsalis, 1965–, b. New Orleans, is a skilled trombonist but has become better known as a producer of jazz recordings. A fourth brother, Jason Marsalis, 1977–, b. New Orleans, is a jazz drummer. Their father, Ellis Marsalis, 1934–, b. New Orleans, is a noted jazz pianist and educator who taught all his sons. Together, the Marsalis family has played a pivotal role in the jazz renaissance of the last two decades of the 20th cent.

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