Last year, one of the highlights of the UCSB Arts & Lectures House Calls series was a virtual performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet. Recorded in the beautiful Appel Room at Rose Hall in New York’s Columbus Circle, Marsalis and the band played his Democracy! Suite as dusk fell over Central Park in the background. Audiences all over the country got to see this portion of the program through several different presenting organizations, but you had to be watching with A&L to catch what came next — a brilliant conversation about the state of music and the future of democracy between Marsalis and UCSB professor Jeffrey Stewart. In a little less than an hour, the pair covered a lot of ground, mixing complex cultural analysis with down-home reasonableness until the intellect of both men shone as bright as the sun that had just gone down. It was a night to remember in the depths of the pandemic quarantine.
On Friday, February 4, Marsalis and his musicians will return to Santa Barbara in person and at full strength when the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) performs for Arts & Lectures at The Granada Theatre. When I spoke with Marsalis by phone last week from La Jolla, he told me that the musicians chose this night’s program — musical democracy in action.
Each member got the opportunity to nominate three to five favorite arrangements from the orchestra’s monumental catalog. With 10 arrangers involved and more than 1,200 sheets of music to choose from, the deliberation took some time. The resulting concert will play like a JLCO greatest hits, merging originals by Marsalis and the group with classics from Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles McPherson, Dizzy Gillespie, and more.
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On Friday at 9:45 a.m., Marsalis and the orchestra will perform a virtual assembly for Santa Barbara and Ventura County K-12 students from its Jazz for Young People program titled What Does Jazz Mean? Marsalis said that he intends to approach this event as a conversation rather than a lecture and that he hopes to offer the students a way “to see the symbolism in what we play.” Students from the UCSB Black Studies program will be on hand in person to participate in a post-performance Q and A session.
It’s always a pleasure to converse with Marsalis, whose gift for phrasing extends well beyond the trumpet and the bandstand to include his pithy and thought-provoking words. When asked what he’s thinking about when he solos, he offered a litany of guidelines that bear repeating. “When my turn comes up, I try to play in a vocal way,” he said. “I set about to do something thematically coherent that’s in time with the rhythm section and that communicates my emotions. My solos often become like conversations with myself, and in those exchanges between different sides of me, I like to demonstrate that my experience has range and depth.”
To hear what that sounds like and to luxuriate in the joyful noise of the world’s greatest jazz orchestra, be at the Granada on Friday, February 4, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu or call the box office at (805) 893-3535.