New Orleans-born trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (1961), one of the most popular jazz musicians of all times, was educated to classical music but, after joining
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1980),
adopted the hard-bop trumpet styles of Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard,
as mediated by the sound of Miles Davis' acoustic quintet of the 1960s,
and flirted with the spirit of the swing era. He became the ultimate neo-traditionalist
with Wynton Marsalis (august 1981), whose best compositions (Father Time and Twilight) were performed by a quintet with pianist Kenny Kirkland and his saxophonist brother Branford Marsalis (although the others featured Miles Davis's rhythm section of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams).
The mediocre Think Of One (february 1983), with Knozz-Moe-King
featuring the quintet with Branford Marsali, Kirkland and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts,
and the terrible Hot House Flowers (may 1984)
introduced a more cynical entertainer, more interested in melodic standards for
atmospheric background than in original compositions.
On the other hand, Marsalis impersonated a superb Miles Davis imitator on Black Codes (january 1985), a collection of seven originals (including Black Codes and For Wee Folks) for the quintet with his brother and Kirkland.
Scaled down to a quartet with pianist Marcus Roberts, J Mood (december 1985) was less charming if still effective (J Mood).
His mission was to restore the "moral values" of jazz music that had been lost
in the intellectual turmoil of cool jazz and free jazz.
Faced with the schism of the 1960s, that opposed free jazz and fusion jazz,
Marsalis chose to disavow both and retreat to the previous era.
His music therefore tended to be rather predictable and dejavu, no matter
how elegant and passionate.
His ambitions as a composer (as well as his nostalgic view of his birth town) surfaced on The Majesty Of The Blues (october 1988), that contained the 15-minute The Majesty Of The Blues for sextet (Roberts, Todd Williams on tenor and Wes Anderson on alto) and the 36-minute three-movement suite The New Orleans Function (ruined by a lengthy spoken-word performance).
Marsalis better fine-tuned his arrangements for
the septet (Roberts, Williams, Anderson, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley) on Blue Interlude (1991), whose
centerpiece, the 37-minute Blue Interlude, achieved the grace and
romance of Duke Ellington's classic years.
Eric Reed replaced Roberts on piano for the large-scale suite In This House On This Morning (march 1993), premiered in may 1992, basically a neoclassical mass inspired by black church music, and including a suite within a suite, the 28-minute In the Sweet Embrace of Life.
Marsalis was now a master of the extended composition, and proceeded to score the three-movement ballet Citi Movement (july 1992), leaving behind the Ellington model for a post-modernist cacophony. However, the dance scores
Jump Start (january 1993) and Jazz - Six Syncopated Movements (august 1995), documented on Jump Start and Jazz,
Sweet Release for jazz orchestra and Ghost Story for a quartet without Marsalis, documented on Sweet Release and Ghost Story (august 1999),
and Them Two's (june 1999),
were more traditional in their quotation of the jazz tradition.
So was Big Train (december 1998), a suite for big band that was shamelessly in the tradition of Duke Ellington.
The film soundtracks Unforgiveable Blackness (september 1996) and
Reeltime (october 1999) were utterly trivial in
the way they quoted folk, blues and jazz music.
This prolific period culminated with the 13-movement childishly impressionistic Marciac Suite (february 1999) for jazz septet.
In parallel, Marsalis was also recording enormously successful but superficial interpretations of classical (especially baroque) music.
The Magic Hour (june 2003), the
first jazz ensemble studio recording in four years,
was a minor album for small group.
Marsalis' live performances between
march 1990 and december 1994
are documented on the (rather disappointing) seven-disc Live at the Village Vanguard.
Future generations might remember him more for his classical compositions
(straddling the border between Charles Ives, Duke Ellington and Igor Stravinsky)
than for his stereotyped jazz albums.
the seven-movement first string quartet, At the Octoroon Balls (premiered in may 1995), dedicated to New Orleans;
the colossal oratorio Blood on the Fields (premiered in april 1994), that draws from the entire history of black music;
the twelve-movement suite All Rise (premiered in december 1999) for jazz big band, symphony orchestra and 100-unit gospel choir;
the violin concerto (2015);
Wynton Marsalis' septet, comprising Walter Blanding and Ted Nash (saxes), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), Dan Nimmer (piano) and Elliot Mason (trombone), recorded the eight-movement The Democracy! Suite (september 2020) during the covid pandemic.
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