"One rarely hears this music with such technical brilliance, stylistic authenticity, and tonal sheen," exclaims Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune. "Here were the throaty reeds, percussive trumpet blasts, and visceral sense of swing that have made the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra the greatest large jazz ensemble working today." Steve Eddy of the Orange County Register concurs: "The finest active big band, with each of its 15 members a certified all-star in his own right…It is a well-oiled machine, extremely polished, sharp as a razor, and tight as a drum."
How do you follow up reviews like that? Answer: By continuing to produce some of the hottest big band sounds on the road or at home here in New York City. Under the direction of Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is an inspiration to experience, whether they're touring the world, playing gigs at home‹such as their events this month saluting the jazz heritage of Pittsburgh and Los Angeles‹or participating in many of Jazz at Lincoln Center's acclaimed educational programs.
"The magic of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is in how it was founded," says Marsalis, "with original members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The tradition is built within."
This month's concerts are a part of Jazz from Coast to Coast, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's season-long salute to the major American cities of jazz. For Pittsburgh: From the Heart of Steeltown (February 16-18), Marsalis will bring in special guest artists Jeff "Tain" Watts and Steve Nelson to help focus on that city's long history in jazz and the many famous folks that have come from there, including such legends as Billy Strayhorn, Billy Eckstine, Mary Lou Williams, and Art Blakey, the latter of whom Marsalis toured with early in his career.
For Los Angeles: Central Avenue Breakdown (February 23-25), guest artists Gerald Wilson, Plas Johnson, and Kenny Burrell will join the salute to the jazz sounds made famous by Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, and other great composers.
Jazz at Lincoln Center can also be heard this month in its ongoing radio series on WFMT, Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio with Ed Bradley. Winner of a 1997 Peabody Award, the show is produced in conjunction with Murray Street Enterprises in New York.
Onstage and on the air, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra continues to perform a vast repertoire, from rare historic compositions to brand new, commissioned works by Benny Carter, Joe Henderson, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Joe Lovano, Chico O'Farrill, Freddie Hubbard, Charles McPherson, Marcus Roberts, Geri Allen, Eric Reed, Wallace Roney, Christian McBride, and many others, including current and former band members Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Ted Nash, and Ron Westray. Guest conductors have included Carter, Heath, O'Farrill, John Lewis, Ray Santos, Paquito D'Rivera, Jon Faddis, Robert Sadin, David Berger, and Loren Schoenberg.
Over the last few years, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra has performed collaborations with many of the world's leading symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Russian National Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston, Chicago, and London Symphony Orchestras, and the Orchestra Esperimentale in São Paolo, Brazil. The LCJO has also been featured in several education and performance residencies, from Prague, London, Lucerne, and São Paolo to Vienne, France and Perugia, Italy.
Televised concerts by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra have aired in the U.S., England, France, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Norway, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Jazz at Lincoln Center has also appeared on six Live From Lincoln Center broadcasts on PBS, most recently on October 18, 2004, during the grand opening of its new home, Frederick P. Rose Hall. The LCJO was also featured in a Thirteen/WNET production of Great Performances, entitled "Swingin' with Duke: Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis." And in September 2002, BET Jazz premiered a weekly series called Journey with Jazz at Lincoln Center, featuring performances by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra around the world.
To date, 11 recordings featuring the LCJO have been released and internationally distributed: Don't Be Afraid…The Music of Charles Mingus (2005), A Love Supreme (2005), All Rise (2002), Big Train (1999), Sweet Release & Ghost Story (1999), Live in Swing City (1999), Jump Start and Jazz (1997), Blood on the Fields (1997), They Came to Swing (1994), The Fire of the Fundamentals (1993), and Portraits by Ellington (1992).
One of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's newest members is a young, talented pianist named Dan Nimmer, who was recommended to Marsalis by former orchestra member, saxophonist Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson. "It's a wonderful experience performing with these guys!" Nimmer proclaims. "I've been playing with Wynton in a small group setting for a while and I joined the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in August. Like the small group, the music is always creative here and, also like the small group, everybody can improvise. It's a lot of fun."
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.