Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 15 07:32:21 PDT 2004

WOW ! ! ! An ambitious undertaking that will help re-vitalize the genre by
developing a new audience. I don't know about other jazz band leaders, but I
will surely highlight this renewed momentum for jazz in all of my promotion
literature/efforts for 2005. Note especially the last two paragraphs.

Steve Barbone

October 15, 2004 - CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK - NY TIMES

A Home That Jazz Can Call Its Own - By BEN RATLIFF

For many months, Wynton Marsalis has written in a spiral-bound red notebook.
The notes, in a small, neat pencil script, deal with how to create the new
$128 million performing arts complex for Jazz at Lincoln Center, of which he
is the artistic director.

"A. Celebrate the timeless qualities of jazz," begins the first page.

"B. Highlight past glories which need not be altered.

C. Reinvigorate songs which carry the identity of this music.

D. Establish the importance of high-level improvisation in all styles.

E. Feature what we have done and will do.

F. Integration of styles, generations and forms.

G. Use ensembles of differing sizes.

H. Focus on music of New Orleans, 20's and after the 50's."

The notes reflect Mr. Marsalis's cast of mind: he starts with grand theories
and gradually translates them into mundane details. Ultimately, that
philosophy has shaped the programming for the inaugural season of Jazz at
Lincoln Center's three new theaters, which begins on Monday. (PBS will cover
the event live.) 

It will be an eclectic season ‹ radical in parts by Jazz at Lincoln Center's
own standards, and predictable in others. But above all it will be a
demonstration of the possibilities of the new spaces.

For the first night ‹ which is also Mr. Marsalis's 43rd birthday ‹ he took a
sharp turn away from programming what's currently hot, influential or
venerated in jazz. "It's more a celebration of the human side of the music,"
Mr. Marsalis said recently as he sat, with the notebook in his lap, eating
takeout near the 50-foot-tall glass window overlooking Central Park in the
Allen Room, one of the theaters in the new complex.

Mr. Marsalis chose as the name of Monday's opening concert, and as its
theme, "One Family of Jazz." Aside from appearances by musicians like Abbey
Lincoln, Tony Bennett, the saxophonist Joe Lovano and the violinist Mark
O'Connor ‹ and an opening fanfare composed by Slide Hampton ‹ the concert
will reinforce the notions of jazz musicians as an extended family and Jazz
at Lincoln Center as a house in which to hold a reunion. The concert will
include performances by Mr. Marsalis's father, Ellis, and his brothers
Branford, Delfeayo and Jason, as well as the musically inclined parents of
the members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Sounds great: Team Jazz trots onto the field. The parents of the musicians
in the Lincoln Center Jazz orchestra. The family of jazz. And yet it takes
confidence to propose all this for the opening of the first concert hall
built specifically for jazz. For argument's sake, another way of planning
the opening concerts might have been as simple as invoking the gods: Wayne
Shorter. Ornette Coleman. Keith Jarrett. Herbie Hancock. Sonny Rollins.

There would have been practical considerations, of course. Mr. Jarrett's
manager, Steve Cloud, said last week that had he been asked to play, Mr.
Jarrett would have declined on the grounds that he has good working
relationships with Carnegie Hall and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center,
and generally plays only in theaters with at least 2,500 seats. (Mr.
Jarrett's very different views of what constitutes the jazz tradition might
have gotten in the way, too.)

Aspects of a Vision

But still, the opening concert, and the rest of the three-week opening
festival ‹ through Nov. 5 ‹ is a way of quickly projecting Jazz at Lincoln
Center's own style onto a much greater canvas. And as the season progresses,
the programming seeks to demonstrate the broad potential of the
organization's new physical spaces.

No longer will it be squatting in someone else's territory, as it was at
Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall. Now Jazz at Lincoln Center can
create concerts with a much greater sense of freedom in the practical
aspects of scheduling and staging than it could in the past. The new
complex, within the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, includes three
performance spaces: the Allen Room, a 310- to 550-seat amphitheater-style
hall designed to allow for performances without amplification; the 1,100- to
1,231-seat Rose Theater; and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, a nightclub that seats

Some of the concerts in Jazz at Lincoln Center's 2004-05 season, its 14th as
a year-round producer of jazz concerts and educational programming, clearly
show Mr. Marsalis's thumbprint.

Representing the early-90's-period Marsalis, when he gained a reputation as
the protector of jazz tradition and history, there is "The Duke and the
Count" (Oct. 25 in the Allen Room), a program of works by two of his major
influences, Basie and Ellington ‹ including the suite "Black, Brown and
Beige." It may not be the sexiest-looking program on the list, but this is
the kind of concert that the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra probably does
best. It sheds light on the inner workings of Ellington and Basie's music,
the way those bandleaders arranged and composed for maximum impact. To hear
that music in the smaller of the theaters, without amplification, will be
even more remarkable.

As for the recent-period Marsalis, builder of large, cross-discipline works,
there is "Let Freedom Swing" (Oct. 28 to 30), an ambitious evening involving
a cast of new compositions inspired by old texts, with all the music played
by Mr. Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. For that event, the
pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi has written a piece based on words written by
Eleanor Roosevelt; the saxophonist Jimmy Heath has written another based on
a speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson; the Czech jazz pianist Emil
Vicklicky has put Vaclav Havel's words to music; the pianist Billy Childs
wrote a score for a text by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The various
speeches will be read by Morgan Freeman, Glenn Close and other actors.

And in December, "Suite for Human Nature," a commissioned piece that pairs
Mr. Marsalis's music with a text by the lyricist Diane Charlotte Lampert, a
project that has been evolving for over a decade, will be performed in the
Rose Theater.

Expanding Definitions

Toward the end of the opening festival, several collaborations involving
jazz and dance (Nov. 3 to 5) with the dancers and choreographers Peter
Martins, Elizabeth Streb, Savion Glover and Garth Fagan, will also be
presented in the Rose Theater. These performances will test the
possibilities of the hall, which can raise or lower its stage, change into a
theater in the round and lower its ceiling, depending on the circumstances.

And in the festival's second week, a curious series called "Three Shades of
Blues" (Oct. 25 to 27) moves jazz onto a level field with African music, the
blues, gospel and country music.

Jazz and dance is one thing. Certainly jazz and Brazilian music. But jazz
and country music? There was a time when Mr. Marsalis saw jazz musicians who
played the songs of someone else's tradition as near traitors. Is he still
keeping watch?

"Wynton is so important to the institution that sometimes our identity gets
completely confused with him," says Jonathan F. P. Rose, the chairman of the
building committee for Jazz at Lincoln Center, who has been involved with
the organization since its inception, in 1987. "But in fact there's a
healthy difference between us. In fact, Wynton often programs music that
isn't his own taste but displays to the world a range of music. If you look
at our programming coming up this year, Wynton is really enthusiastic about
the fact that we have a John Scofield concert."

The fact that the world's first theater made for jazz is booking John
Scofield (in March, a double-bill with the pianist Brad Mehldau) is hardly
earth-shaking news: he is one of the greatest guitarists in jazz. But as
jazz tea-leaf reading, it's something to think about, since Mr. Scofield has
long blended his music with rock and funk, and Mr. Marsalis has retained a
position of public skepticism toward blending or diluting the form.

On to the Road Ahead

Mr. Rose's comment must be taken to heart. The bookings in these theaters
are not to be seen from stem to stern as the public expression of Mr.
Marsalis's taste in music. It can still be hard to grasp this point,
however, given how much Wynton Marsalis there is in the season. Eventually
the organization may have to bring its agenda more into line with the
working life of jazz in all its styles. That is where Dizzy's Club might
come in handy: it could operate as a kind of research lab, drawing in new
possibilities for the ambitious programming of the theaters as it percolates
nightly with its more casual setting.

Anyway, Mr. Marsalis's own position toward genre-blending is perhaps not
what it was. He tends to dismiss musical fusions built on plainly commercial
principles, and he has been especially suspicious of anything coming from
youth culture. But in the last few years, he has explored beyond the
fundamentals of jazz, incorporating music from Latin America and Africa and
Europe into his orchestra.

Working to that end will be "Brasil Livre!," a two-night concert on Oct. 29
and 30 featuring the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. Mr.
Pascoal, blind since birth, who taught himself harmony by banging on
different pieces of metal in his grandfather's blacksmith shop, has been a
kind of secret influence on many jazz performers, from Miles Davis (with
whom he played, on the album "Live Evil") to the pianist Jason Moran. Mr.
Pascoal has expanded the palette of Brazilian vernacular roots music and
jazz harmony to include the sounds of animals and traffic. He will appear on
a double bill with Beat the Donkey, a loud and mirthful percussion band led
by the New York-based, Brazilian-born percussionist Cyro Baptista, who,
though not a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, has nevertheless
become part of Mr. Marsalis's wider circle.

Jazz at Lincoln Center will continue to commission new work ‹ one of its
greatest virtues, whether or not the compositions have succeeded. On April
22 and 23, there will be evenings of new music composed by the pianists
Marcus Roberts and Mr. Moran. As for more surefire audience attracters, it
will also book nights with some of jazz's more popular vocalists, including
Cassandra Wilson (Oct. 22) and Dianne Reeves with Freddy Cole (Oct. 23).

Sitting in the Allen Room, Mr. Marsalis talked more about his plans in his
soft, sandpapery voice. Nobody in jazz expresses himself quite like Mr.
Marsalis: the discussion takes on a language of slow, righteous
perseverance, and the long-range goals extend wider, into the arena of
culture in general, not just of music. He keeps referring to a five-year
plan to use jazz as a point of departure in integrating all the arts ‹ "to
say, in effect, this is what this music is and to be proud of it ‹ and to
feel like we don't need a piggyback from other people and we don't need to
be ashamed to say that we have aesthetic objectives and these are what they

"The hardest part is before us," Mr. Marsalis said, closing the notebook.
"Thank the good Lord for being here, to get to that hard part. You know what
I mean? It's like making a football team. O.K., you made the team, but now,
here are the games."

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