Marsalis Commemorates Jelly-Roll and Rollins with Heartfelt Performance
by Alex Perman
The concert began with lively, welcoming applause from the Symphony Center audience on October 14. Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra marched onto the stage to play a selection of pieces composed primarily by the great Jelly-Roll Morton, as well as a few original compositions.
The band started off with a piece entitled “Sidewalk Blues," composed in 1928 by Morton. It is a classic ragtime-esque sounding tune that includes a short line of dialogue, that contributes to its upbeat melody. The piece then evolved into more of a swing style song, which began with a saxophone solo followed by a magnificent trumpet improvisation. The trumpet and trombone then performed a “call and response,” which ended with Marsalis taking over and bringing the whole band back together for the end of the piece.
The next piece on display was one of Morton’s first ever compositions. Although the piece started with a piano introduction and snippets of a clarinet, it ended up having a classic jazzy-blues feel to it. The band seemed to be having a great time with the music.
There were also plenty of tunes that were solemn and heartfelt. A particular song opened with a slower saxophone led by Paul Nedzela, but then, out of nowhere, the rest of the band joined in with a massive burst of energy. The energetic horn section faded out just as quickly as it joined in and transitioned back to Nedzela. This number generated a more emotional response from the audience, but they seemed to appreciate it as much as the upbeat tunes.
One of the other highlights of the concert was a piece called “The Crave,” once again composed by Morton in Puerto Rico. The tune was especially emotional due to the recent hurricane that wiped out most of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and power. The bass player, Carlos Henriquez, who is a native Puerto Rico, played this song with an emotional fervor that can not be found anywhere else. The band played with a liveliness and intense manner common in Latin-American style rhythms. This piece evoked joy from the crowd, but also a hope for the people suffering in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Though Morton’s music was featured quite a bit throughout the performance, there were also other well-known pieces played, including some of Sonny Rollins compositions. The song titled “The Freedom Suite,” composed by Rollins, was especially good. The saxes and horns all played in unison while the trumpet and trombone joined together for another “call and response.” The soulful playing of the band felt reminiscent of the hopeful spirit during 1960s Civil Rights movement. The piece continued with a solo from both the bass and piano.
The band also performed an original composition from Vincent Gardner, a member of the band, which was called “Up From Down.” It was inspired by the great American poet and writer Langston Hughes and was played enthusiastically from the musicians. Marsalis performed another solo, which was played with skillful swiftness.
As the concert wrapped up, Marsalis and his quartet, the bass, piano, and trumpet player, came out to the stage for a short, but moving encore. The crowd became ecstatic and loudly applauded the performance of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
These seamless transitions and interactions within the band made them entertaining to listen to. Marsalis also made sure he was connecting with the audience by providing small talk between numbers and relishing in old stories from his jazz career. The combination of all these little things made the concert a great event. The band showed their passion for the music by paying homage to some of the jazz greats, but also brought together their expertise in playing to make beautiful music.