Wynton Marsalis
and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Center, Chicago,IL
Jan. 18, 2008

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis

Story by James Walker
file photo by Phil Bonyata

As the musicians began taking their position on the mammonth Symphony Center Stage, some uttered amazement at it's configuration, with rare audience seating within their reach. One stated "we haven't played like this before". Because Orchestra Hall was filled to capacity, stage seats were added after this concert became a sell out earlier in the week.For those of us with the privilege of being "up close and personal" with this world class band, it was truly a special treat.

Wynton is such a consummate professional who commands the same from his orchestra members. I t was a delight to see a "big band" that was neatly and uniformly attired reminiscent of the bands of the past. Wynton, commands respect from his band mates and in return gives it back to the audience.

As has been the theme most of this winter, it was another extremely cold January night outside, but inside the music was hot. From the very start, one could feel the warmth coming from these guys. They were on a mission and we would be the beneficiaries of the great music of Duke Ellington.

As Wynton took his position in the back row with the trumpet players, he indicated tonight would be one of Duke's "love songs" because Ellington really loved the women. Throughout the first set, Wynton allowed individuals to express themselves with extended solos. The first to do so was saxophonist Walter Blanding on "I let a song go out of my heart."

Wynton quipped during their playing of "Solitude," "I hope you are here with someone tonight, if not maybe you'll leave with someone because it's so cold outside." Throughout the evening Wynton shared anecdotes about the Duke which also made this concert very enlightening.

Before concluding this exceptional first set, Wynton introduced multi-reedist Victor Goines as the recently appointed director of Jazz Studies at Northwestern University. Goines beautifully soloed on "Self Portrait of the Bean."

The band opened the second set with "Mood Indigo." Wynton was featured on this number as he walked throughout the stage serenading the women. He paid special attention to one in particular quipping "I'm just flirting." Again the entire audience was delighted.

Keyboardist Dan Nimmer and bassist Carlos Henriquez were featured on "Dancers in Love." This uptempo number was played with a Latin tinge and the young Henriquez really was on point during his extended solo. This young man has a bright future. Wynton, as his mentor Art Blakey was noted for, gives young talented musicians an opportunity to develop their skill while working with world class musicans. He's to be commended for his continued dedication toward the development and education of young people wherever he goes.

Another hiighlight of the evening was the performance of Trumpter Ryan Kisor on "Concerto for Cootie." Kisor, winner of the first annual Louis Armstrong Trumpet competition in 1990, was spectacular on this number.

Although this exceptional band consisted primarily of young musicians, veteran Joe Temperley dazzled the audience with a bass clarinet solo on "The Single Petal of a Rose." He expertly played this number accompanied only by Dan Nimmer on the piano. Temperley, the only member of the band who actually played with Duke, brought the hand clapping audience to its feet.

The final scheduled number of the night, "Rockin' In Rhythm" featured keyboardist Nimmer, bassist Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson. This swinging uptempo song had the entire Orchestra Hall standing at its conclusion. This spontaneous standing ovation necessitated the encore, entitled "C Jam Blues."

In conclusion, this program wasn't "over the top" spectacular, just full of beautiful music , being played by exceptional musicians, composed by the genius and royalty of jazz Edward "Duke" Ellington. Sometimes we forget what a great composer and musician the Duke was and the contribution he made to "America's Music." Thanks to Wynton and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for keeping Duke's music alive.

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Contact James Walker, Jr. and JazzChicago.net

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