Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra return to Hill Auditorium on Thursday as part of a tour celebrating their 25th anniversary. Since 1988, the big band has committed itself to touring, producing music and educating people on the genre that is arguably America’s most distinct cultural invention.

Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Hill Auditorium
From $10

But don’t go in expecting to see the same show Marsalis put on in 2012 for his 50th birthday or, for that matter, anything similar to the other 13 visits he has made to the University’s campus through University Music Society. This one, like all the others before it, is going to be different.

“We have a setlist of all of the music that we have played (at Hill Auditorium) within the last at least 15 years,” JLCO drummer Ali Jackson said. “We never try to repeat the same music we’ve played. Every time we come, we play a different setlist.”

Jackson, a Detroit native who went on to study with jazz legends Max Roach and Elvin Jones in New York, spends over a third of the year touring with the other 14 members of the orchestra — a testament to the group’s commitment to keeping jazz alive and relevant.

“It’s one of the greatest art forms our country has ever produced, if not the greatest,” Jackson said. “There’s going to be very few opportunities from this point in time moving forward where you’ll hear an ensemble this size with this quality of musicians. It becomes more and more rare. This is something that (people will) tell their kids about one day.”

It’s with this understanding of jazz’s depreciating relevance among the average American listener that JLCO constructs its tours, shows and programs.

“Education is the future of any idiom. If you can’t get good information, then you basically will not sustain your art form,” Jackson said. “It is very crucial that we educate young people, middle-aged people, old people — all people about jazz music and every aspect of jazz music and the cultural component that makes jazz and its art form so unique.”

JLCO’s devotion to education comes in the form of workshops, seminars and narrated concerts. “Essentially Ellington,” which expanded its availability to all 50 states in 1999, is a free, year-long high school program focusing on the life and work of Duke Ellington. Through mentorship, student conferences and an eventual year-end festival, students explore Ellington’s major work and hone their craft in the process.

Musicians of all talent levels can also work with members of JLCO at the Irene Diamond Education Center at Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City, where clinics and workshops are held when the orchestra isn’t touring.

“Whether you’re a young musician and you want to know more about jazz, or you’re just a fan of the music or however you come to the music, there’s information out here,” Jackson said.

For Jackson and the other members of JLCO, the educational responsibility that comes with playing with one of the best jazz orchestras in the world has evolved into a way of life.

“If I go to Minnesota, for example, and I know the teachers and educators there and they say, ‘Hey man, Ali, can you come by my school and work on my rhythm section?’ (I’m) more than happy to,” Jackson said.

But similar to the one happening on campus this Thursday, shows at large venues like Hill are particularly crucial for expanding jazz’s listenership and influence. The members of JLCO will be playing some of the most renowned music the genre currently has to offer, in hopes that the sound they are celebrating from their own 25-year history and long before will be resonating in the ears of their audience for days to come. Or, perhaps, for a lifetime.

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