JOURNEY THROUGH JAZZ III | New York, Jazz at Lincoln Center

It was during the pandemic that Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Journey through Jazz series started to take shape. At a time of pronounced physical separation, there was a vision for how best to bring people back into concert halls both to hear joyous music and also to participate in a lived sense of community. With ‘venues of play’ back on the menu, there’s a chance to draw people together in the spirit of what Wynton Marsalis refers to as ‘excellence, attention to detail and ritual’.

Those familiar with the Marsalis family will be aware of the storied educational legacy of Wynton’s late father, Ellis. In many ways, Jazz at Lincoln Center has always been something of an teaching vehicle — with Wynton steering the band from the back row, his knack for narrating the place of their music in the context of world history is a hallmark of what makes their mission and impact so significant. What’s special about this series is that the narrator’s mic is passed so thoroughly around the band, much in the way that improvisation is passed across the players during the pieces. Whether it’s Sherman Irby talking about Fess (John) Whatley’s huge teaching impact in the South ahead of ‘Big John’s Special’ or Chris Lewis shining a light on Shirley Scott’s work on the Philadelphia music scene, there are as many (or more) stories as there are tunes tonight, and it gives the concert an inviting conversational feel.

Inviting voice-overs aside, the music is also a delightful set of styles, hues and combinations. Taking it back to New Orleans, Dan Nimmer’s fingers strike the keys and heal strikes the ground to bring Jelly Roll Morton’s music to life. Chris Lewis’s saxophone illustrates the toe-curling solo that led to Sherman Irvy’s tongue-lashing at the hands of Tommy Stewart. Obed Calvaire demonstrates the ‘snake’ style of playing with arpeggios and chromaticism that slithers into the audience.

Anticipating the final tune of the night —Freedom Suite— Wynton talks about how the civil rights movement inspired Sonny Rollins into composition that came to embody ‘community, awareness, equality, higher forms of spirituality’. That spirit of protest, resistance, joy, connection and inclusion is encoded within so much of the music that Jazz at Lincoln Center present everywhere they play. It’s a rich, seismic, timely message and one that only adds to the presentation of the musical virtuosity that hums within the band. A venue of play, a venue of community, a venue of learning — call it what you will: the institution is passing the baton of music and education forward in a manner that befits its forebears, practitioners and inheritors.

Explore the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2022-23 season here.

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