Wynton Marsalis is, by all accounts, a genius. A man gifted with such talent that he is frequently cited in discussions about ‘the defining moments in music’. Like all greats, he started early, learning the trumpet under the watchful eye of his pianist father. He trained in classical trumpet and was good enough to go to the renowned Juilliard School but another genre had captured his heart. He began playing in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, a starting block for many big names including Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett and Donald Bird; the roll-call of previous Messengers reads like a who’s who of jazz and blues.
It is Art Blakey who is credited with giving Marsalis his hard-bop style but it is Marsalis’s own take on neo-traditionalist jazz that’s earned him both criticism and praise. Marsalis left behind the free jazz movement, preferring an earlier jazz tradition, and it is his supposed neoconservative approach, along with his pontificating hard-line take on the genre, that has led some of his peers to speak out against him. Despite this, it is difficult to find anyone who denies that the New Orleans trumpeter can play.
Marsalis continues to be a leading advocate of jazz and is the Artistic Director of Jazz at the Lincoln Center where, like Art Blakey before him, he works hard to promote what he sees as the timeless values of music. Since switching from Columbia Records to Blue Note, his aim to promote those values continues apace, from noted performances with Eric Clapton at the Rose Hall to collaborations with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. So whether you agree with his take on jazz or not, seeing him play as part of the Grec will mean watching a musical legend and that should surely be enough.
Wynton Marsalis, Grec Festival 2011, Teatre Grec, July 14th, 2011