Jazz is a Wynton Marsalis thing. The great jazz and classical trumpeter, composer, bandleader and educator has served as managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) since that organization’s inception in 1987. In that time, no individual has exerted a more profound influence over the curation of the jazz tradition, the allocation of its resources and the education of it future. While some have objected to Marsalis’ strict delineation of the jazz canon (“overly classicist and wary of the experimental” is the most common gripe), few question the man’s authority, commitment or seriousness of purpose.
If the twin aims of JALC were to bring younger audiences to concert music while also formally recognizing the legitimacy of jazz as serious music, they certainly got their man in Wynton Marsalis. The prodigy from New Orleans began his performing career at the Mozartean age of 8. He got serious about it at 12. By 14, he was performing a Haydn trumpet concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic. In 1979, he went to Juilliard to study classical trumpet, but in 1980, he went on the road with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The two streams of his performance career have run parallel ever since, and it is hard to think of another player who has achieved as much prestige in both disciplines.
Inside the jazz community, Marsalis is famous for his commitment to education and his approachability. By all accounts he remembers everyone’s name and story, from the next-gen chosen ones to the hundreds of young players who pass through JALC’s programs; students are welcomed at his pad to jam or to watch basketball. “It’s not like we sit around talking mouthpieces,” he said of visits from star student Joey Pero.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Summer Jazz Academy is the premier high school program for advanced high school jazz students, and Marsalis is, as ever, on-site and hands-on. This two-week program, designed and instructed by Marsalis and a select team of faculty, serves as a rigorous training institute on the Bard campus in Annandale-on-Hudson for 42 of the most advanced and dedicated high school jazz students (grades 9-12). Students apply by audition and participate in one of two Big Bands and multiple performing small combos, receive private lessons and experience classes in aesthetics, culture, history, performance practice and pedagogy.
In addition to this educational component, the institute will also present several public performances featuring the student combos and Big Bands, along with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, at Bard College during the summer of 2016. Part of the program is showing the kids how it is done. On Saturday, July 23 at 7 p.m. and the following Sunday at 2 p.m., an all-star octet led by Marsalis performs at Bard College’s Olin Hall. The band features trumpeter Marcus Printup, saxophonist Ted Nash, trombonist Vincent Gardner, pianist Helen Sung, guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Ali Jackson.
Tickets cost $50. For tickets and more information, visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu/jazzatlincolncenter.
Wynton Marsalis Octet, Saturday, July 23, 7 p.m., Sunday, July 24, 2 p.m., $50, Olin Hall, Bard College; https://fishercenter.bard.edu/jazzatlincolncenter.