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Wynton Marsalis to bring swinging Christmas music to Sarasota: interview

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Wynton Marsalis AP 2012

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra bring its new Big Band Holidays Tour to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Tuesday, December 17. Here's Marsalis, right, performing during the International Jazz Day Concert held at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York, Monday, April 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

Wynton Marsalis, the most acclaimed jazz and classical music trumpeter alive, whistles a sweet series of notes. He then scats the merry melody. It’s an unheard holiday tune Marsalis has been carrying around with him for about two decades.

“I actually wrote this Christmas song a long time ago for a show that never got produced but I still remember it,” he says by phone. “Maybe I should record it one of these days.”

The musician, composer, bandleader and educator has won nine Grammy Awards. Marsalis has honorary degrees from places like Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Princeton and Yale. In 1997, he became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his oratorio “Blood On The Fields.” But don’t be fooled by all of his serious awards and accolades, Marsalis also loves the same yuletide tunes that your or I might be singing this holiday season.

Wynton Marsalis AP 2011

Wynton Marsalis performs at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I., on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Joe Giblin)

“All musicians think fondly of Christmas time,” the 52-year-old New Orleans native says. “It gives us a great body of music to work with.”

Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra recently embarked on a new Big Band Holidays Tour that has already garnered glowing reviews. The orchestra returns to its New York City home for 8 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday. These concerts will be available worldwide via a free live webcast on new.livestream.com/jazz.

The Big Band Holidays Tour then returns to the road with a date at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota on Tuesday. Marsalis and the virtuosos he plays alongside and directs will perform swing-era and new big band arrangements of timeless tunes. Audiences can expect everything from “Jingle Bells,” the trumpeter says, to selections from the venerable 1960 “Nutcracker Suite” album by Duke Ellington, which features jazz interpretations of the Tchaikovsky masterpiece arranged by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

“All of it is going to be Christmas material,” Marsalis says.

Wynton Marsalis 1 by Frank Stewart

Wynton Marsalis courtesy photo by Frank Stewart

Miami native Cécile McLorin Salvant, who started singing jazz while living in Paris, will handle lead vocal duties. Her U.S. debut album, “WomanChild,” came out in May and easily ranks as one of the most compelling jazz releases of the year. Salvant has a singular and emotive voice making her a major force on the jazz scene despite being only 24 years old.

“She’s a once in a lifetime talent,” Marsalis says. “The first time I heard her I was just knocked back by her range, her pitch, how professional, how flexible and how extremely serious she was on stage. We love going out with her. It’s our first time on the road with her and we just love her musicianship. The audience is going to love her.”

While in his mid-20s, Marsalis became the only artist ever to win Grammy Awards for both jazz and classical records. At the same time, though, certain jazz snobs were still wrongheadedly calling him a Miles Davis imitator while others criticized Marsalis for his dismissal of 1970s fusion and other more contemporary styles. Salvant, as she continues her rise in the often harsh world of jazz, will also likely face criticism. Marsalis offers her words of advice.

“We talk about establishing a strong relationship with the audience and being dedicated to a vision no matter what happens,” Marsalis says. “It’s an honor and blessing to be in front of people and to match them up with your talent; and you have a responsibility to them and your own ability.”

JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA
With Wynton Marsalis and special guest Cécile McLorin Salvant
8 p.m. Tuesday, December 17; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $55-$80; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA
With Wynton Marsalis and special guest Cécile McLorin Salvant
8 p.m. Tuesday, December 17; Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $55-$80; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: December 11, 2013
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