The New York City Jazz Kings

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 27, 2004 | Go to article overview

The New York City Jazz Kings


Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

Wynton Marsalis - the No. 1 figure in jazz today, the man Time magazine called one of America's 25 most influential people - is back doing his favorite thing: Being out on the road.

"I've been touring forever," Marsalis says by phone from his office at Lincoln Center in New York City, a distinctive, soft drawl cuddling his words like a warm blanket.

"I love being on tour."

For the first time, Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's tour stops next Friday at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, part of the Oregon Festival of American Music's Now Hear This series.

There, he and the 15-piece ensemble will revive repertoire by Count Basie, Ornette Coleman and European masters (`music that celebrates the integration of European music into the spirit of jazz') that was performed in New York in the weeks just before going on tour.

Eugene is a middle stop on a killer tour that starts in Bellingham, Wash., on Saturday, proceeds through a series of one-night stands all along the West Coast and ends March 20 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The band gets only three nights off.

A grueling schedule, some might believe.

"It is not grueling so much as what we do," Marsalis, 42, says. "We love to play for people. We look forward to touring to different places and getting a chance to meet people that we've met before, make new friends and just expose people to the music.

`There isn't anything like hearing the music live."

An advanced degree in jazz

Marsalis' band is the regular crew at New York's Lincoln Center: Seneca Black, Ryan Kisor and Marcus Printup, trumpets; Ron Westray, Andre Hayward and Vincent Gardner, trombones; Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson, Ted Nash, Victor Goines, Joe Temperley and Walter Blanding Jr., saxophones; Eric Lewis, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; and Herlin Riley, drums.

Marsalis is the band's director and lead trumpet, a position accorded him as the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. What does such a position mean to him?

"It means I have the opportunity to play with some of the greatest musicians in the world," he says. "A chance to enjoy education. And just be a part of the history of jazz music."

The organization he heads is one of the most influential bodies in jazz. He's very proud of it.

`We've had a lot of premieres of music, like Duke Ellington's `Queen Suite,' ' he says. `We revived certain great pieces of Duke's, like `The Tattooed Bride.' We've commissioned music. I've had the chance to interface with musicians from around the world.'

In October, the center will open the 100,000-square-foot Frederick P. Rose Hall, the first concert venue built exclusively for jazz. Marsalis is looking forward to important concerts there, many spotlighting jazz giants.

From Grammy to Pulitzer

Perhaps the most decorated jazz musician ever, Marsalis' career includes more than 30 albums, nine Grammys and countless honors worldwide.

At home in both jazz and classical music fields, he is the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize, for "Blood on the Fields," an epic oratorio on the subject of slavery. He also has composed highly regarded music for string quartets and written for ballet and film.

One glance at his long and impressive biography reveals that he has done just about everything in music, and done it all extremely well.

Are there worlds left for him to conquer? Marsalis ducks the question.

"Well," he says, `I don't look at it like that so much as `worlds to conquer.' I just try to keep developing and learning more about music and being more a part of it."

Still, with his proficiency in both classical and jazz worlds, Marsalis - whose hipness quotient is sky high - is a widely celebrated musical icon and a role model for young players. …

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