This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Wynton Marsalis plays music for many reasons none of which have anything to do with keeping jazz alive.
"It's alive, or we wouldn't be playing it," said Marsalis, the well-known trumpet player and artistic director of New York City's Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. "We are musicians. We play it not to keep it alive, but we're playing it for edification and entertainment."
The unofficial mission statement of his bandmates: "Let's play good."
Marsalis and his 14-piece big-band orchestra will be in Salt Lake City on Monday, the latest stop on their 2011 Vitoria Suite Tour. The orchestra, led by the 49-year-old trumpet virtuoso from New Orleans, will perform a variety of music, from original compositions to new arrangements of Chick Corea's music, as well as selections from its most recent CD, "Vitoria Suite.""Vitoria Suite" represents another creative leap for the endlessly curious Marsalis, who has become known for his innovative and inclusive vision for jazz as well as for his trumpet playing.
To Marsalis, jazz isn't a relic of the early 20th century but a welcoming art with an expansive range that can be blended with chamber ensembles, bluegrass bands and symphony orchestras. Jazz can add depth to tap dance, ballet, blues, soul and swing. In 1997, Marsalis who already owns nine Grammys became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
"Vitoria Suite" is an extended work by Marsalis that uses the Delta blues as the groundwork to explore the jazz and blues of North America as well as the flamenco music of Spain and the nearby Basque region. Marsalis first heard what he called "that gypsy music" when he visited the Pyrenees in the early 1980s. For two decades, he traveled throughout the region as part of several world tours. (He's been on every continent except Antarctica.) Finally, he told himself he would write a short piece before he ended up writing a double album.
"The melodic language is the same," he said of jazz musicians and Spanish and Basque musicians. "We speak in the same language the romance language."
His friends in Spain liked his exploration so much that the mayor of Vitoria, the capital city of the Basque region, awarded Marsalis with the city's Gold Medal, its most coveted honor.
But it wouldn't be a Marsalis program if it only featured one genre of music. The band also will perform compositions written by orchestra members other than Marsalis.
"There's never been a band with so many arrangers and composers in it," Marsalis said proudly. "Everyone can express themselves. We like playing each other's music."
On this tour, the band plays a piece by bass player Carlos Henriquez called "Two-Three's Adventure," which was drawn from a recent tour of Cuba. Another composition also getting attention is "Bearden (The Block)" by young trombonist Christopher Crenshaw. It was inspired by the paintings of the pioneering black artist Romare Bearden.The band also will perform works composed by Corea, whom Marsalis calls "one of the great figures of jazz." Corea is best known as a member of Miles Davis' band in the 1960s. Later, Corea helped create the jazz-fusion movement with collaborations including his "Return to Forever" bandmates Stanley Clarke and Lenny White.
It's the wide-ranging work of musicians such as Corea, Crenshaw and Henriquez that continues to inspire Marsalis, including his belief that jazz is forever.
"I'm always optimistic," Marsalis said, adding this definition to the word: "It's being positive about something with evidence."
Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center OrchestraWhen • Monday, Feb. 7, at 7:30 p.m.Where • Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake CityTickets • $34.50 to $59.50 by calling 801-581-7100 or online at kingsburyhall.orgInfo • Free parking at Rice-Eccles Stadium, free shuttle