Wynton Marsalis has been keeping a busy schedule this year. Now, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are coming to Springfield’s Sangamon Auditorium for a concert Saturday.
Wynton Marsalis has been keeping a busy schedule this year.
He headlined a concert in Washington the night before the inauguration of President Barack Obama and played in the White House on Inauguration Day.
More recently, it was a series of concerts celebrating the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records.
Now, fresh from a Friday-night gig at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are coming to Springfield’s Sangamon Auditorium for a concert Saturday.
Marsalis first came to prominence in 1980 as one of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In 1983, he became the first — and apparently only — artist to win Grammys for both classical and jazz recordings in the same year. He also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for “Blood on the Fields.”
In the nearly three decades since he turned pro, Marsalis formed his own ensemble, toured and lectured extensively and — following in the footsteps of Duke Ellington and others — began composing ambitious orchestral and choral works that span jazz and classical music.
Marsalis, who is 47 and spent his teen years in New Orleans, has also taken a leading role in efforts to rebuild the infrastructure and culture of the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And he has positioned himself as one of the leading conservators of American jazz.
With the ascendancy of President Obama, who has stated his interest in jazz and classical music, Marsalis seems poised to take on an even greater public role.
The day before Obama’s inauguration, Marsalis led a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington that was telecast live on CNN. Dubbed “Let Freedom Swing!” the concert featured prerecorded film clips of Marsalis in conversation with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. They talked about democracy, unity and American art.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t like jazz at all. I would go to concerts that my father played — my brothers and I, we’d be like, ‘When is this concert going to be over?’” Marsalis recalled in one of the videos.
“When I became 12 or 13, I started to listen to John Coltrane’s music. It was ‘My Favorite Things,’ and then I got hooked on it. I started to understand it and enjoy it.
“One of the beautiful things about jazz improvisation is that you can take something that we all know, and you can make it into another piece, but it still keeps its identity,” Marsalis said.
He then connected jazz to democracy: “It’s like how the Constitution can be amended. It’s still the same Constitution, but here’s our take on it. That means it is always now, because the ideals are valid — they’re timeless.”
Marsalis has also spoken about the importance of arts and culture in American life.
In a commentary published on CNN.com days before the inauguration, Marsalis wrote that informed conversations about culture are often left out of the national dialogue.
“Our culture provides all the proof we need that we are together, that we have always been and, in spite of difficulties, will continue to be,” Marsalis wrote. “It’s time for us to build a new mythology based on our many cultural triumphs instead of fixating on our never-ending missteps and conflicts.”
But amid all the politics and discussions of culture, Marsalis remains first and foremost a musician.
In reviewing last month’s Kennedy Center concert, the New York Times’ Jon Pareles wrote that “when Mr. Marsalis picked up his trumpet, playing ‘These Foolish Things’ as a duet with the pianist Dave Brubeck or ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ with a snappy tapdancer, Jason Grimes, and musicians who extrapolate from country and blues — Mark O’Connor on violin, Bela Fleck on banjo and Derek Trucks on slide guitar — he was impish and sly, elegantly playful and far from didactic.
“The jam session trumped the civics lesson,” Pareles wrote.
Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or email@example.com.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
8 p.m. Saturday
Sangamon Auditorium, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Springfield
$52 and $47, available at the Sangamon Auditorium ticket office, at (217) 206-6160 and at www.sangamonauditorium.org.