On a day when the country heard a lot of interesting things from a former ambassador, Wynton Marsalis also had ambassadors on his mind. Although, the ambassadors on Marsalis’ mind were not from a former Soviet country, they were the masters who took jazz music to other places and levels. Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra came to Orchestra Hall on Friday to celebrate the works of the great Jazz Ambassadors.
The night featured songs from huge talents such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, among others. The reason that Marsalis refers to these legends as ambassadors is that they performed jazz music all over the world, which served as a cultural exchange. That was very evident in the performance of Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a La Turk” and “Isfahan” from Ellington’s Far East Suite.
These songs were created by the jazz masters as they were touring the world. While traveling they heard different music of cultures they visited and mixed it with their own songs, which produced an amazing sound that crossed borders and changed minds. That is precisely why the show referred to them as Jazz Ambassadors. As Marsalis pointed out, ambassadors feel “better about being us than being me.”
Two other songs stood out because each showcased the immensity of talent that the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra possesses.
Dizzy Gillespie’s “Jump Did-Le Ba,” was a lively number that really took off when members of the orchestra started skat-singing. Trombonist Chris Crenshaw, trombonist Vincent Gardner and saxophonist Camille Thurman took turns improvising and riffing in response to one another. At the same time the trio both complemented and tried to one-up each other. The improvisation was spot-on and really fun to listen to. Of course, the jazz orchestra thundered behind them. When the full orchestra blows at full power, it is something to experience.
For most of the night, Marsalis allowed his fellow Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra members to shine. He introduced the songs but acknowledged the bandmate who had arranged the music and let them each take a solo. In this regard, Marsalis was the consummate band leader. However, for the last song, Marsalis grabbed the spotlight for himself.
The song was Dizzy Gillespie’s “Things to Come” – which Marsalis referred to as an “eye-opener.” The reason being it is played at a startling pace. So fast that it doesn’t seem like 15 musicians should be able to play that fast together without the aid of a sped-up tape machine. But there the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra was, all in sync and traveling 1,000 miles per hour.
And just when the audience thought it couldn’t get any better, Marsalis stood up for his solo. The solo was fast and crisp, with intense high notes and an amazing amount of swagger. It was a jaw dropping moment – I think even some of the other band members turned around to watch. The moment proved why Wynton Marsalis is the modern-day Jazz Ambassador.
Photos provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.