Wynton Marsalis

tonight at 8 p.m.

Hill Auditorium

$10 – $52

Returning for what is becoming an annual engagement, renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brings his living legend to Hill Auditorium through. Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will start their “Love Songs of Duke Ellington” tour in Ann Arbor. The set will combine classic Ellington numbers, canonical jazz standards and even a few originals from members of the Jazz Orchestra.

Born to legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, Jr. and his wife Dolores in New Orleans, the young Marsalis demonstrated an early aptitude for the trumpet that eventually landed him at the Julliard School of Music. He immediately began making waves in the New York scene, and before his 20th birthday he was playing with jazz luminaries like Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock, while establishing himself as the foremost trumpeter of his generation.

He has consistently been bestowed with some of music’s highest accolades. He won his first two Grammys in 1983. Now he has nine across both the Classical and Jazz categories. In 1987 he helped found the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and was named its Music Director, a post he still holds. What is perhaps his greatest honor, awarded in 1997, is his mammoth “jazz oratorio” Blood on the Fields which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Music – the first time in the award’s history that a jazz piece was selected as the recipient.

Under the spotlight of the jazz community, Marsalis has emerged as one of its most controversial figures. Having long championed traditional and bop-oriented jazz, while dismissing forms like jazz fusion and free jazz that emerged in the 1960s, many argue that Marsalis is partly responsible for jazz ceasing to grow and evolve as a modern art form. Marsalis, detractors say, has unfairly used his popularity and position with the Lincoln Center to proliferate his personal tastes and influence other musicians in a manner that stifles the vitality of contemporary jazz.

But he’s offering no apologies, especially tonight. By showcasing the work of Duke Ellington, Marsalis is staying true to form, exploring the work of a classic jazz performer whose heyday began in the 1940s. Ellington’s work is a natural choice for a centerpiece. Not only does it mesh well with Marsalis’s tastes, but it was also originally written for and performed by big bands and jazz orchestras much like the ensemble that will back Marsalis this evening.

With formidable support behind it – bassist Carlos Henriquez as well as Ali Jackson Jr., an acclaimed drummer – Marsalis’s trumpet is sure to breathe life into material that many assume is already fossilized. It’s not.

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