October 18, 2004
KEEPING THE HISTORY PRESENT:
The Making of a Jazz Statesman: Wynton Marsalis, the trumpet-playing star and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, has become an entity
above and around the daily jazz world. (BEN RATLIFF, 10/18/04, NY Times)
As Jazz at Lincoln Center prepares for the first concert tonight at its new digs - three theaters in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle - Wynton Marsalis, its trumpet-playing star and artistic director, is behaving increasingly statesmanlike. [...]
These days Mr. Marsalis, who turns 43 today, enjoys a kind of attention that has little precedent in jazz, and so does Jazz at Lincoln Center. It has 3,500 subscriptions, which are expected to bring in $1.5 million this season. During Mr. Marsalis's stewardship, the nonprofit jazz institution has gone beyond its initial goals - the creation of a canon for jazz history and the drive to give the genre more dignity - to make it as respected by the public as classical music is. Now the arts complex appears to be more focused on the expansion of jazz into other disciplines - dance, opera, drama - and exposing jazz to the world through its educational resources.
As a musician, an ideologue and an arts administrator, Mr. Marsalis has created jobs and an official spot for jazz in New York where there was none, with the cooperation of the city, which gave $30 million to the new complex.
He may also be the most recognizable jazz musician in the street, the only one to win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1997, and one of the few who can easily sell out a midsize theater in this country and abroad.
Yet as Mr. Marsalis has flourished in the realm of plush-theater culture, luxury-goods sponsorships, official ceremonies, television specials and books of reminiscence and advice, his ground-level influence as a bandleader in the jazz scene has declined.
His transformation is akin to that of a stunningly talented ballplayer who takes a job in the team's front office. Musicians do not talk about his work nearly as much as they did 20 years ago. The question of whether Mr. Marsalis has been good for jazz has become an institutional one more than an aesthetic one.
"Jazz is not merely music," is how he put it in a recent statement drafted for the opening of the new halls. "Jazz is America - relationships, communication and negotiations." When he pops up as a sideman, he becomes news on the grapevine. In many ways he has become an entity above and around the daily jazz world, yet not quite in it: "a bookkeeper, keeping the history present," as the trumpeter Leron Thomas put it.
Somehow, "statesmanlike" just isn't a word you easily associate with Mr. Marsalis. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2004 9:17 AM