One of the nation’s most acclaimed jazz musicians will come to town on Wednesday, when Herrick Chapel hosts trumpeter Wynton Marsalis for an 8 p.m. performance.
Marsalis’ staggering list of accomplishments shows why he commands so much respect. The nine-time Grammy winner has also won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his musical depiction of slavery titled Black Codes from Underground and helped direct and produce Jazz, a documentary by noted director Ken Burns. Marsalis currently directs the Jazz at Lincoln Center ensemble, a prestigious group with whom he will play at Wednesday’s concert.
According to Professor of Jazz Studies Damani Phillips, Music, Marsalis’s notoriety derives from his wide-ranging repertoire and his promotion of the neo-classical style, which fuses rock with principles of previous periods of jazz. Marsalis and his orchestra comprise the premier ensemble in the country and play music from all periods of jazz.
“They are very studied and accurate in recreating the old style of music from the 1920s and 30s,” Phillips said. “It’s something you won’t hear anywhere else.” The group is also known for explaining the history along the way to help the audience understand what is being played.
That Marsalis and the ensemble are coming is itself a lucky and unexpected opportunity. The concert arose outside of the Committee for Public Events’ planned and paid for fine arts performance season.
While attending the Arts Midwest Booking Conference, CPE Chair Shawn Womack, Dance, and Director of Conference Operations Rachel Bly ’93 stumbled upon a chance for Marsalis to make a stop on campus as part of a previously scheduled Midwest tour.
Bly’s good rapport with Marsalis’ agent brought the initial agreement. Bly then made a proposal for extra funding for this one-time opportunity to President Russell K. Osgood, who officially approved the performance.
“Grinnell has good connections and history of concerts being brought to campus, and we are able to get some really exciting people through these relationships. Artists comment on how they like to play in such an intimate and great venue,” said Bly. “It’s really serendipitous the way it occurred.”
Students and community members can look forward to a gem of a concert, and as both Phillips and Bly emphasized, a chance to hear one of the best jazz bands in the world live. Tommy Johnson ’09, a member of Grinnell’s Jazz Ensemble, echoed these feelings of anticipation.
“In small town Iowa it’s amazing that we can get someone like Mr. Marsalis to come play,” Johnson said. “The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is one of the best bands around today, and there aren’t many left because the economy is down and the jazz economy is down, so [performers] can make more money in smaller trios or quartets.”
Overall, Phillips stressed the high caliber of the Orchestra. “There is such a concentration of stellar musicians in that band,” he said. “They can literally hand pick who they want, and that is exactly what they’ve done. It’s an unusual but pleasant surprise that way out here, we have the rare opportunity to experience this kind of stuff.”