Wynton Marsalis’ Contributions to Jazz

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Aug 9, 2011 Comments Off Renatta DeBlase

Wynton Marsalis’ Contributions to Jazz and Why He Is So Important to the Music World


Wynton Marsalis was only nine years old and was attending school in Louisiana with his siblings when I started my national music project: to get jazz performed in concert halls throughout America and to try to convince directors of large cultural complexes such as Lincoln Center to establish a jazz repertory orchestra so that the orchestra’s fine playing could be heard all over the world. And it was Wynton Marsalis who successfully brought back pure jazz and established the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Repertory Company more than 20 years ago! A Columbia Artists executive told me that such an orchestra was a definite must and that I should encourage Billy Taylor and his jazz colleagues to help form a jazz repertory orchestra–and this was 1972.

I have never met Wynton Marsalis personally but have read some of his books on music, including “Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life” and “Moving to Higher Ground,” a discussion of jazz and democracy. I also gave two copies of “Jazz ABZ” to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ library. Wynton is dedicated to keeping jazz alive whether through his teaching, lectures, outreach programs to secondary schools nationwide, concerts, and books, as well as his position as artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Under Wynton’s direction, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra has become one of the finest orchestras in the world that emphasizes Duke Ellington’s compositions. Wynton could be earning millions more by performing rock and pop music, but has chosen instead to play America’s only original art form, jazz, which has its roots in the African American culture, a culture that is not a minority but central to American culture itself, and these are Wynton’s words. He is continuing Billy Taylor and Duke Ellington’s legacy, that is, he is playing, writing about, and composing jazz.

And even Wynton Marsalis’ young people’s concerts at Lincoln Center are reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein’s ease in communicating music theory and harmony to very young children at the philharmonic 50 years ago!

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has many CDs available, including They Came to Swing.