Friday, March 19, 2010


Bandleader Wynton Marsalis I used to consider you a jazz snob, and a Duke Ellington wannabe. You music was too traditional for my taste. Your conceit-which I discovered was only good old-fashion American confidence-turned me off. I recall the time you walked on the bandstand uninvited to challenge Miles Davis. Instead of indulging you, the trumpeter asked you to leave. Crashing Miles' gig, and challenging him took balls. I wonder if you think about that episode, realizing you behaved foolishly. Back then, you're cocky. Ten years ago, I heard you perform live. My opinion of you changed drastically. I have a friend who loves the ground you walk on., and will stand toe to toe with anyone who criticizes you. I've dealt with her wrath on several occasions. In 2001, she dragged me to your performance at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. I didn't put up a fight. She's pushy, and she normally gets her way.

You performed with a quintet. I loved the concert. I wanted to retract every accusation I made about you. After the concert. I pledged to never criticize a musician before I listened to them live. Wynton, I boasted about that performance for a good month. The music was textbook swing, and your soloing was unpretentious. The quintet swung from start to finish, To this day, that concert ranks as one of my all time favorites. I agree with the fans, the critics and the jazz historians who consider you jazz most dignified ambassador. Whenever, you come to Detroit, I make sure I'm front and center at the concert.

Wednesday evening, I heard the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra perform at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI, and it was the first time experienced the orchestra live. Wednesday afternoon, I watched a movie on cable television about the great bandleader Glen Miller. James Stewart played the bandleader. Throughout the movie, he was obsessed with finding this certain sound for his orchestra. It took some doing but he finally accomplished his goal. No matter what adversity he had to deal with, the bandleader kept forging on. So, Wynton, after watching that movie, I was hyped up, and I wanted to hear some good swing music. Your orchestra provided that.

Your orchestra was polished like expensive silverware. I thought the orchestra was going to play some of Duke Ellington's compositions. I was surprised they didn't. Instead, you opened with three jumping selections popularized by the Count Basie Orchestra "Sleep Walkers Serenade," "Midnight Blue," and "Seventh Avenue Express". The tempo the orchestra played on "Midnight Blue" put me and the couple seated to my immediate left in a trance. You refer to the slow groove as grown-folks-tempo. The capacity audience got a kick out of that. For the rest of the evening, the orchestra performed songs from the album "Portrait in Seven Shades," a suite commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art. Wynton, I want to take a minute to breakdown the suite for my readers. Saxophonist Ted Nash wrote the suite, which has seven movements inspired by famous painters such as Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall and Pollack.

In the movements, Nash expressed how various paintings from the artists inspired him. He didn't attempt to capture the painter’s personalities. Rather Nash captured their spirits. Each movement was engaging, but I have two favorites. The section dedicated to Monet, and Pollack. I bet playing the Monet section was challenging given the odd 13/8 time signature. Playing it, I suspect was tantamount to running a marathon in half the time,

On Pollock, the entire orchestra was able to get their hands dirty, especially pianist Dan Nimmer who was genius all night. Native Detroiter drummer Ali Jackson was licking his chops like the late big band drummer Jo Jones. Pollack used to splash paint on canvas. Each band member during their solo splashed musical paint on the stage. Wynton, if the painters I mentioned were alive, I bet they would've been happy with the music Nash composed commemorating their style of painting. Wynton, my player hating days are over. I was young back then and judgmental. I didn't have a sufficient reason to dog you.

I'm middle age now. I no longer have a knee-jerk assessment of things. Driving home from the concert, I thought about how tight the orchestra was, and I realized what Glen Miller was shooting for. He wanted his outfit to sound different then the other popular big bands of his era.
Post a Comment