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Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

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Wynton Marsalis is easily the most artistically and politically successful jazz musician in history. He’s among the most popular—perhaps not more than Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, but he’s up in their ranks. He’s the gold standard by which trumpet players are measured. You might be as good as Wynton, but I don’t know if you can be better. There’s nothing he can’t do with the trumpet.

Wynton is a jazz icon, but he’s also a jazz educator, and in this zone he has no peer. His Jazz at Lincoln Center project has transformed the way people think about teaching and learning this art form. It has helped move jazz into the mainstream as a credible discipline.

All the members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are stars in their own right, and with all those stars, you might expect the stage to be chaos, but in fact it’s one of the most well-rehearsed, well-organized improvisation-based groups ever. Each player has more polish than you could wish for, and each one is a star arranger, star composer, star historian, star educator. It’s a council of the baddest cats on the planet, all in one orchestra.

The reason, of course, is that Wynton takes painstaking care to find the most talented musicians out there, and brings them into this group. They get to do the best things a jazz musician can do—they play all over the world, and with every important musician in every genre, from free jazz to traditional jazz to modern jazz. And they absorb everything those experiences and artists have to offer. They’re like the New York Phil, except they have a bigger budget and get more guests into their ranks.

When they hit the stage, you’re getting a high concentration of extreme sophistication. Off the stage, you’re getting a cluster of passionate and eloquent advocates for the jazz art form. Just the mere fact that this collection of guys is here for us to take advantage of is enough reason to go see them. Add to that their polish and musicianship—it will be a great night.

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