Wynton Marsalis





Wynton Marsalis is the most famous jazz musician since 1980.  He was born in New Orleans in 1961 and is the son of famous jazz pianist and teacher Ellis Marsalis.  He studied both jazz and classical music at a young age.  He attended Julliard and in 1980, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  By 1981, he was the talk of the jazz world and in 1982, he recorded his first album, using the players from Miles Davis' 1960s quintet (Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter), along with his own quintet, which featured Kenny Kirkland (piano), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), Robert Hurst (bass), and his brother, Branford Marsalis, on tenor saxophone.  His early influence was Freddie Hubbard, but by the time he recorded, his playing was more influenced by Davis.

At the time of this recording, jazz had become so fused with other music (such as rock music, funk, and r&b) that it was losing its identity and some wondered if jazz was indeed dead.  Furthermore, trumpet players were in short supply during the 1970s.  Marsalis showed that the future of jazz can be found by looking backwards to its tradition.  His arrival inspired and ushered in the "Young Lions" movement - young players who played traditional acoustic jazz, such as Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, and Antonio Maurice Hart.

He recorded classical music records as well and in 1984 and 1985 Marsalis became the first musician to win dual Grammy awards for best soloist on both a jazz and classical record.  He was ranked as one of the greatest classical trumpet players in history.  He went on to record many albums and become the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.   In the late 1980s, he studied the works of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington more.  He started breaking free from the Miles Davis influence and developing his own sound.  Ellington inspired him to compose.  In 1997, he recorded (with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) his composition Blood on the Fields, a musical depiction of slavery, and became the first jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize for music.

He has often been a controversial figure, not so much from his playing, as from what he said.  He has a selected knowledge of jazz history, basically discounting the 1960s avant garde and 1970s fusion music).  In the process angered a large number of musicians, who criticized his playing (based on his early Miles Davis-influenced music, which lacked a lot of originality).  Davis, himself, was among the critics.  However, he balances this by influencing the direction of jazz from 1980-present, his technical brilliance in multiple genres of music, his compositional abilities, and his educational work.  Marsalis works with many school children and in the process introduces many to jazz and inspires young musicians through his work.  Some, such as Hargrove, benefited directly from Marsalis' help.

To learn more about Wynton Marsalis, check out these sites:

WyntonMarsalis.net - official site
Jazz from Lincoln Center - the orchestra that Marsalis heads.
The functional family
- info on Branford, Wynton, and Ellis Marsalis.
Blood on the Fields - Read an interview with Marsalis after he won the Pulitzer Prize.

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