One of the so-called “young lions” of jazz in the 1980s, Wynton Marsalis has carved out a name for himself in jazz and classical circles. He’s the artistic director and the leader of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Lauded for his technical prowess on the trumpet, I was expecting Marsalis to be a larger than life character when I saw his quartet play at London’s Barbican centre, which, according to the gig’s announcer, has been a long time coming.
Marsalis was joined by younger brother Jason on drums, Dan Nimmer on piano, and British talent Mark Lewandowski on bass. Despite its size, the four musicians occupied a small and intimate section of the stage, which lent a certain charm to the gig. Added to this was the choice of material. Marsalis and his band served up some oldies, some of which I didn’t know – Goodbye (Gordon Jenkins, 1935), After You’ve Gone (Creamer and Layton, 1918) – and some which I did – Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael, 1927) and Ramblin’ (Ornette Coleman, 1959). The best way I can describe the band and its music is natural. Nothing was forced or out of place and every note seemed right. This was jazz at the highest level. There is a certain thing that happens when you see players of the highest calibre; they make it look easy. It’s only when you sit behind the piano (or whatever your choice of weapon) the next day when you appreciate that it takes a lot to look easy.
Marsalis lived up to all of my expectations, his playing and otherwise. He reminiscences of Ornette Coleman and others kept the audience enrapt, as did his ventures out into the stalls. The gig felt like a real event rather than just another gig and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for when Marsalis next visits these shores.