The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Sunday afternoon show at Hill Auditorium was its 17th and continues to be one of the more highly anticipated of UMS Jazz Series. Arguably, the JLC is the top jazz orchestra working and their shows are full of swing, surprises, and of course Duke Ellington’s music. It wouldn’t be an authentic JLC show without Wynton Marsalis drawing from the Ellington songbooks.
This time out, Marsalis didn’t open with Ellington’s music. He opened with eight members of the orchestra tearing through a Buddy Bolden jumper and rolling through Jelly Roll Morton’s Smoke House Blues and Dead Man Blues. I attend the JLC shows when they play UMS Jazz Series.
This year was the first time the Marsalis was out front playing and soloing like mad. Normally, Marsalis is in the trumpet section calling tunes while the featured players manage most of the workload. Marsalis sounded fit and imaginative. It was exciting seeing him open up.
Marsalis remains one of the finest jazz trumpeters out there. That’s big because there’re talented and hungry trumpeters out there such as Jeremy Pelt, Terell Stafford and Sean Jones. Marsalis doesn’t get any love from critic polls these days. Besides being the top spokesperson of the music, Marsalis is a wonderful jazz educator.
He prefaced each song with a history lesson about the making and importance of the song. So you felt as if you’re attending a jazz concert and a course in jazz history. After the eight members worked up the audience, Marsalis brought out the other members.
Then he called three Ellington favorites from different eras of his career. For example, Marsalis opened with a number Ellington wrote in the early 70’s. Then the orchestra worked their way south playing an Ellington song from the 30’s and one from the 40’s.
After playing Ellington’s music, the orchestra wolfed down Kenny Burrell’s Layresto like vegetarians fresh fruit. Surprisingly, giving all the New Orleans and Ellington music the orchestra played the best number the orchestra played was Its Not Easy Being Green, which Ali Jackson arranged.
Jackson is a longstanding member of the orchestra, and he holds down the drum chair, the most demanding spot in the orchestra. Jackson had the most kick-ass solo on Dead Man Blues that many audience members probably were still thinking about over breakfast this morning.
For two solid hours the JLC did what it does best that’s keeping Duke Ellington’s, Buddy Bolden’s and Jelly Roll Morton’s music young and in the public eye.