Consisting of 15 of the finest soloists, ensemble players and arrangers in jazz music today, Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra has been resident orchestra at New York’s Lincoln Center since 1988.
In addition to Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, the orchestra currently touring Australia consists of Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, and Marcus Printup on trumpet, Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw and Elliott Mason on trombone, Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Victor Goines, Nicole Glover and Paul Nedzela on saxophones and clarinets, Dan Nimmer on Piano, Carlos Henriquez on Bass and Obed Calvaire on drums.
With a collection of virtuosi like this on offer, the expectation among the capacity audience for the first of two sold out concerts in Canberra preceding the National tour by the orchestra, was palpable.
As most were drawn to the shiny new $20,000,000 Snow Concert Hall by the opportunity to experience the multi-Grammy Award-winning jazz legend, Wynton Marsalis, in action, those expecting a grand entrance by the master were surprised to discover, when the band members took their seats on stage, that Marsalis was already among them, sitting with the trumpets in the back row.
Even though he is not only the Musical Director of the band, as well as the Managing and Artist Directors, Marsalis is adamant that this band is an ensemble of equals. So in this band he plays fourth trumpet.
Another surprise was that each instrument in the band was miked. Therefore when Marsalis, who was also compering the evening, spoke into his hand-held microphone from his position seated in the back row of the orchestra, it took a little while to connect the dis-embodied voice with the person.
The concert commenced with a dazzling rapid-fire arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s Grand Central Getaway. By tossing off the complexities of the arrangement with apparent ease, the band signalled their authority and set the tone for what was to follow.
Sherman Irby contributed a fiery sax solo, Marsalis offered a muted trumpet solo, and pianist, Dan Nimmer displayed his virtuosity in the first of a succession of sublime piano solos sprinkled through the program. As thrilling as the performance was, it took most of this number to adjust the amplified sound balance to the correct level.
A succession of jazz masterpieces by the likes of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Dave Brubeck followed. A composition by band member, Sherman Irby, who also contributed several arrangements, was included along with arrangements by several other members of the ensemble. All of which provided the opportunity to highlight the virtuosity of each member of the ensemble in feature solos.
Particularly memorable was Vincent Gardner’s arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s Light Blue, which featured a captivatingly discordant flute introduction by Sherman Irby and Ted Nash, and a superb baritone saxophone solo by Paul Nedzela.
The only female member of the ensemble, saxophonist, Nicole Glover, was highlighted in Kenny Dorham’s Dorham’s Epitaph, which also provided the opportunity for drummer, Obed Calvaire, to exhibit his mastery.
Chris Crenshaw contributed an arresting trombone solo in a piece by Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis had his moment in the Chick Corea composition, Tones for Joan’s Bones, which also featured an excellent saxophone solo by Ted Nash.
Bassist, Carlos Henriquez contributed a masterful solo during the Charles Mingus composition Song with Orange, while everyone had fun with Dave Brubeck’s catchy, Blue Rondo A La Turk.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has a huge repertoire, so no doubt the compositions offered at each of its Australian concerts will vary. This fact was evidenced during this very first concert when Marsalis inadvertently announced a different number to the one the musicians had set up.
The resultant good-natured music scramble which followed was typical of the laid-back camaraderie among the musicians, who smiled and nodded whenever a colleague offered a virtuoso variation.
In addition to its concert commitments, musical education is an important focus of the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. Several hundred Canberra music students took advantage of the opportunity to undertake workshops and attend a rehearsal of the orchestra on the day prior to its inaugural concert in Canberra.
Similar opportunities are being offered in each city the orchestra visits. These provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone interested in jazz history.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Snow Concert Hall, 40 Monara Cresent, Red Hill (Canberra)
Performance: Thursday 17 August 2023
Season continues to 18 August 2023
Following their Canberra performance’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will perform at Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne (20 August – A Journey through Jazz); Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne (25 & 26 August – All Rise with MSO); Concert Hall – Sydney Opera House (31 August & 1 September – All Rise with SSO); Concert Hall – Sydney Opera House (2 & 3 September); and Concert Hall – Queensland Performing Arts Centre (4 & 5 September).
Image: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis – photo by Peter Hislop
Review: Bill Stephens OAM