THE JAZZ MAN

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THE CULTURE CLUB

Wynton Marsalis may have been raised in New Orleans, but his heart is now firmly rooted in New York. An Upper West Sider since he came to study music at The Juilliard School three decades ago, Marsalis has become a giant of the music world and the leading public figure of jazz. He goes by many descriptions these days—trumpeter, composer, impresario, writer and educator, to name a few—but mostly he is known as an ardent advocate of jazz tradition and the only artistic director Jazz at Lincoln Center has ever known.

Curiously, despite such a legacy of achievement in music, Council Member Gale Brewer remembers Marsalis primarily as a basketball player. Brewer first met Marsalis years ago when she headed to the courts for some pickup with co-workers. That’s where she encountered a jump shooter with a deft touch who everyone else

Wynton Marsalis has released more than 45 recordings, won nine Grammy Awards and received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

Wynton Marsalis has released more than 45 recordings, won nine Grammy Awards and received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

referred to as “the famous man.” It was only when Brewer went to a Lincoln Center concert years later that she made the connection.

“Not only does he head up Jazz at Lincoln Center but he also plays basketball on the various city courts on the West Side,” Brewer said.

So it turns out Marsalis has some game. But it’s doubtful his chops are as good with a basketball as they are with a trumpet. This is the guy, after all, who began playing with jazz legend Art Blakey when he was only a teenager.

Since then, he has released more than 45 recordings, won nine Grammy Awards and received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his oratorio Blood on the Fields. He also helped found the jazz program at Lincoln Center in 1987, shepherded it first to full constituent status and then to its expansive, current home at the Time Warner Center. But Marsalis is an equally well-known teacher.

“He does a wonderful job of arts education,” Brewer said. “I’ve seen him at middle schools, the Apollo Theater, Brandeis High School. He has a touch for getting kids involved with jazz and interested in listening to it.”

Musically, Marsalis is known mostly for bringing jazz back to its roots by forming a neotraditionalist movement after a fuzzy era of fusion and the avant-garde. But it is hard to place his efforts within strict limits. Marsalis has made plenty of classical recordings and composed nearly as many works for dance, including several efforts for the New York City Ballet.

His most recent efforts include a live album of blues with Willie Nelson and a heavily political rap song, Where Y’All At?, that calls out, among others, “All you ’60s radical and world beaters/Righteous revolutionaries and Camus readers.”
As Brewer said, “There’s only one Wynton Marsalis.”

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