Wynton Marsalis: Renowned Musician to Jam with Jazz Band

“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” crooned Duke Ellington. There is no doubt that the King of Jazz himself would find meaning and sparkle in the jazzy sounds soon to resonate across campus. Nationally and internationally renowned jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, along with the rest of his jazz septet, will be visiting Phillips Academy on Thursday, March 6, to host a workshop for students and to perform in a concert in the evening. Marsalis’s visit is being made possible by a special program funded by the Kayden family. The Bernard and Mildred Kayden Fund support allows the PA Music and Theatre departments to invite an artist of international fame to campus every other year. Marsalis will join the ranks of past guest artists to Phillips Academy, including opera singer Denyce Graves, vocalist Bobby McFerrin, and modern dancer Bill T. Jones. The Academy Jazz Band and a small student jazz ensemble have worked hard over the last two months to prepare several pieces by “The King of Jazz,” Duke Ellington, to perform. These chosen pieces are part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center “Essentially Ellington” program, which builds on the legacy of Duke Ellington by sending his original arrangements to high school musicians for study and performance, for a very minimal fee. Through “Essentially Ellington,” over 150,000 students have been exposed to Duke Ellington’s music. “It’s a great program,” said Instructor in Music Peter Cirelli. “It has enabled us all to get more Ellington music and has drawn more attention to Ellington, himself.” During the ninety-minute workshop on Thursday afternoon, Marsalis will work with the Academy Jazz Band as well a small jazz group to polish the Ellington pieces that they have prepared. It is hoped that his extensive knowledge and thirty years of experience will be beneficial to Andover’s own student musicians. During the workshop, Marsalis will likely address the musical aspects of playing jazz, from improvisation and sound production, to articulations and intonation. “Wynton will hopefully talk about Duke, the way those players played, and how we might add some of that style to the way we play,” Cirelli said. Instructor in Music William Thomas noted that it is hard to know exactly what Marsalis will emphasize in the workshop. “It depends on what he hears,” Thomas said. “But he will respond directly to needs of students, which is why this program is great.” The workshop will be held in Cochran Chapel, and anyone is invited to come and watch. Following the workshop, the septet will do a sound check at the Chapel, in preparation for their 6 pm concert. The concert will open with the Andover’s own jazz talents. The small ensemble and the Academy Jazz Band will each play two songs, lasting about twenty minutes, showcasing what they learned with Marsalis earlier in the day. After a short break to change the stage, Marsalis’ group will perform for about an hour. Admission to the concert is free, however, due to limited accommodations and significant interest, it is a ticket event. A maximum of two tickets per person were available to students and faculty starting Tuesday, and to the general public on Thursday. According to Cirelli, the Chapel pews are expected to be completely filled for this extraordinary concert. The Music Department narrowed the candidates for this year’s visiting artist down to Marsalis for many reasons. It seemed that Marsalis, with his pervasive successes in teaching, composing, directing, and playing would make him a perfect match for the 2003 Kayden Series guest artist. A native of New Orleans, Wynton Marsalis was born in 1961. He signed with Columbia Records shortly after attending the Julliard School of Music, in New York. Since his first record debuted in 1982, Marsalis’ jazz and classical recordings have sold nearly five million copies worldwide. For the past sixteen years, Marsalis has taken his jazz groups to thirty countries over six continents, performing, on average, over 120 times each year. Marsalis serves as the artistic director for the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center program, which he co-founded in 1987. The program has enabled Marsalis to pursue his passion of educating as he leads Marsalis’ Jazz for Young People series. On the road, Wynton frequently meets with students and conducts master classes similar to the one he will direct at Andover. Promoting education at an even more widespread level, Marsalis won the 1996 Peabody Award for his twenty-six-part National Public Radio series, “Making the Music.” Marsalis has also been recognized for his extensive contributions to music education, community organizations, and charities. Named among TIME Magazine’s twenty-five most influential people for 1996 and winner of eight Grammy awards for his jazz and classical recordings, Marsalis has opened the eyes and ears of the world to the beauty of the American-rooted history of jazz. “He’s a big deal,” said Thomas. “His sense of mission for teaching about jazz is very clear…He is a major force in the jazz world.” Arranging for Marsalis’ visit was no easy task. Though adequate funding was in place, designating a time for the musician to come was tricky. In addition, aligning the schedules of the other six members of the septet seemed nearly impossible when preparations were being drawn this summer. It so happened that Thomas noticed that Marsalis was doing a concert in the area with his brothers and father in March, so he contacted Marsalis’ management. “We conspired to see how we might have their Boston concert turn into a performance opportunity at Andover,” said Thomas. Lo and behold, the date was set. “It is wonderful for all of us to have contact with a person like Wynton. He’s a great musician and great spokesperson that we will remember for long time,” said Cirelli. Welcoming an artist of the highest caliber, while recognizing the splendor of ageless American jazz, March 6 promises to be an exciting evening of toe-tapping enjoyment for all.