He walked out onto the stage with his trumpet in hand. As he began whistling, four people followed behind him, stomping their feet as they took their positions on the stage. Suddenly, the room erupted in the sounds of the bass and drums and the whistling crescendoed.
Slowly, Wynton Marsalis lifted his trumpet to his lips, closed his eyes and began to play.
“His countless hours of dedication to his craft have rewarded him throughout the years,” Greg Marsh, junior music major, said of the brilliant performance.
Marsalis, renowned and award-winning jazz trumpeter, visited the College as part of Celebration of the Arts on Tuesday, Nov. 1, performing to a packed house in Kendall Hall.
“I don’t care where I play, it’s all important and good,” Marsalis said. “It could be Carnegie Hall in New York or Carnegie Hall in West Virginia.”
Marsalis filled his two-hour set with jazz music that was both upbeat and mellow, delighting the crowd, who responded with loud applause and cheers after each song.
He began his first song, an upbeat ditty, as soon as the band had settled onstage, following a key format that each following song did as well. It began with a solo by Marsalis, followed with one by Walter Blanding, the saxophonist. After the two had finished, they would retreat to the back of the stage and let the drummer, bass player and pianist continue the song.
“I’ve learned more in nine months (working with Marsalis) than all six years in school,” Blanding, 28, said.
After the first song, Marsalis looked out at the audience, microphone in hand. “That first piece, we don’t have a name for it yet,” he said. “It’s just a tune. We’re thinking about ‘Revolutionary War.'”
Marsalis began playing trumpet when he was six years old and spent much of his time with his father, who was also a musician.
“I was always at gigs,” Marsalis said as he sat after the concert playing chess with Blanding. “I’m from New Orleans and there’s a lot of musicianship.”
Being from New Orleans, Marsalis said he was hit hard by the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
“We are all shattered. Everyone is trying to figure out what to do,” he said.
Marsalis said he played in all different bands as a young boy, including a traditional one as well as a funk band in high school.
Since then, Marsalis has grown as a musician and made many friends along the way, bringing several of them to perform with him at the concert, including Clifford Ames, an accomplished trombone player.
Marsalis also welcomed Jennifer Sanon, a 20-year-old singer, who joined him for several songs during the second half of the show. Her jazz-oriented choices included “All of Me” and “Azalea,” originally by Duke Ellington.
Sanon’s vibrato voice echoed throughout the crowd and earned her resounding applause from the audience.
“You sing so good, you don’t have to get naked to make it,” Marsalis said, accompanied by a loud chuckle from the audience.
Sanon said she was thrilled to be working with Marsalis, although she is considering a singing career of her own.
“(Marsalis) likes to encourage and help (others) to go out on their own,” she said.
Marsalis, who has won eight Grammys for his music and was the first jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize, said he believes it is more about the music than winning such awards.
“I’m always happy to win an award, it’s better to be celebrated than not,” he said. “For me . it’s the stuff I get from people, all the different traditions I’ve heard.”
Marsalis continued to play different jazz songs he had written over his long career throughout the concert. As he played, his nimble fingers raced over the keys and audiences watched him sway with the music. Overall, he said he believes jazz can be saved, despite many people calling it a dying art form.
“Art forms don’t die,” he said. “People can breathe life into (them).”
Even Marsalis’ band has incredible talent at such young ages, including his pianist, Dan Nimmer, who is only 23. Nimmer has been playing piano since the age of 10 and has been working with Marsalis since March.
Overall, the performance truly delighted all those in attendance.
“I basically went to the concert because I knew (Marsalis) was one of the most instrumental figures in jazz, and I wanted to experience what it was like to be inside a place that’s appreciative of jazz, kind of like experiencing mini-New Orleans in a sense,” Jon Cherng, junior mathematics major, said. “I thought Marsalis did a great job of providing that type of theme with his own uniqueness. I enjoyed the concert very much and it was something I needed. It was an experience that was very uplifting from reality.”
“I went to the concert because I know of Marsalis’ reputation as a phenomenal trumpet player, and he definitely backed it up on Tuesday night,” Marsh said. “His playing was outstanding, and I think that many of the music majors on this campus, if not all of them including myself, try to emulate his level of musicality and showmanship.”
Marsalis said he was pleased to be able to perform and looks forward to getting even better in the future.
“A democratic proposition hinges on two fundamental principles,” he said. “One is the right of individuals to be themselves and the second one is the ability to use reason to work with other people who are also themselves. That’s jazz music.”