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Wynton Marsalis Biography

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Wynton Marsalis (born October 18, 1961) is an American trumpeter and composer.

He is among the most prominent jazz musicians of the modern era, and a well-known instrumentalist in classical music.

Marsalis has made his reputation with a combination of skill in jazz performance and composition; a sophisticated, yet earthy and hip personal style; an impressive knowledge of jazz and jazz history; and a virtuosity in classical trumpet. As of 2006, he has made 16 classical and more than 30 jazz recordings, and has been awarded nine Grammys, spanning both genres.

Wynton was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1961, to Dolores and Ellis Marsalis. He was the second of six sons, one of whom is autistic. Ellis, a music teacher, was a longtime fixture on the New Orleans jazz scene, and several of Wynton's brothers are also notable musicians; saxophonist Branford Marsalis is probably as well known as Wynton.

At an early age, Wynton exhibited seriousness about study, an aptitude for music and a desire to contribute to American culture. At age 8 he performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by legendary banjoist, Danny Barker. At 14 he was invited to perform with the New Orleans Philharmonic. During high school Wynton was a member of the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony and on weekends he performed in a jazz band as well as in the popular local funk band, the Creators.

At age 17, Marsalis became the youngest musician ever to be admitted to Tanglewood's Berkshire Music Center. Despite his youth, he was awarded the school's prestigious Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. When Wynton moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School of Music in 1978 and began to pick up gigs around town, his talent garnered much attention.

Two years later (in 1980), he joined the Jazz Messengers to study under master drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey. It was in Blakey's band that Marsalis learned the relationship between jazz and democracy: Blakey would often say, "No America, no jazz!" It was from Blakey that Marsalis acquired his concept for bandleading and for bringing intensity to each and every performance. In the years to follow, Marsalis was invited to perform with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Edison, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, and many other jazz legends.

Marsalis eventually assembled his own band and hit the road, performing over 120 concerts every year for ten consecutive years. His objective was to learn how to play, and to comprehend how best to give to his audience. Through an exhaustive series of performances, lectures, and music workshops, Marsalis rekindled widespread interest in an art form that had been largely abandoned and redefined out of what he saw as its artistic substance. Marsalis invested his creative energy as an advocate for a relatively small era in the history of jazz. He garnered recognition for the older generation of jazz musicians and prompted the re-issuance of jazz catalog by record companies worldwide. A quick glance at the better known jazz musicians today reveals many students of Marsalis's workshops: James Carter, Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Harry Connick Jr., Nicholas Payton, Eric Reed and Eric Lewis to name a few.

Not content to focus solely on his musicianship, Marsalis devoted equal time to developing his compositional skills. The dance community quickly embraced his works, and he received commissions to create major compositions for Garth Fagan Dance, Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet, Twyla Tharp for the American Ballet Theatre, and for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

Marsalis collaborated with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1995 to compose the string quartet, At The Octoroon Balls, and again in 1998 to create a response to Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale with his composition, A Fiddler's Tale.

In 1997 he became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for his epic oratorio, Blood on the Fields, on the subject of slavery.

In 2006, Marsalis' $833,686 annual salary as Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center drew negative attention in an article published by Reader's Digest magazine regarding overspending by non-profit organziations.

As a composer and performer, Marsalis is also represented on a quartet of Sony Classical releases, At the Octoroon Balls: String Quartet No. 1, A Fiddler's Tale, Reel Time and Sweet Release and Ghost Story: Two More Ballets by Wynton Marsalis. All are volumes of an eight-CD series, titled "Swinging Into The 21st", that is an unprecedented set of albums released in the past year featuring a remarkable scope of original compositions and standards, from jazz to classical to ballet, by composers from Jelly Roll Morton to Stravinsky to Monk, in addition to Marsalis.

At the Octoroon Balls features the world-premiere recording of Marsalis's first string quartet, performed by the Orion Quartet. The work was commissioned by Lincoln Center, and its premiere by the Orion Quartet in 1995 was presented in conjunction with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. A Fiddler's Tale, also commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for MARSALIS/STRAVINSKY, a joint project of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Jazz At Lincoln Center, is work with narration about a musician who sells her soul to a record producer. It was premiered on April 23, 1998, at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A version without narration was included on the album At the Octoroon Balls: String Quartet No. 1. Reeltime is Marsalis's score for the acclaimed John Singleton film Rosewood. This original music, featuring vocal performances by best-selling artists Cassandra Wilson and Shirley Caesar, was never used in the film. Marsalis also provided the score for the 1990 film Tune in Tomorrow, in which he also makes a cameo appearance as a New Orleans trumpeter with his band. Sweet Release and Ghost Story offers another world premiere recording of two original ballet scores by Marsalis, written for and premiered by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Zhong Mei Dance Company, both in New York City.

As an exclusive classical artist for Sony Classical, Marsalis has won critical acclaim for the recording In Gabriel's Garden (SK/ST 66244), featuring Baroque music for trumpet and orchestra. It includes performances of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 and Mouret's Rondeau, a video of which has been adopted as the new theme for PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. The San Francisco Examiner wrote, "Marsalis continues to define great musicmaking…[the pieces] are all articulated with dazzling clarity and enthusiasm." The album features the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Anthony Newman, and was produced by Steven Epstein.

Marsalis's strongly held views regarding the roots of jazz and its development have generated some negative appraisals from jazz critics and fellow musicians. Down Beat magazine's online website says of Marsalis:

Wynton Marsalis emerged as one of the most notable New Orleans civic leaders in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a number of public speeches and television ads, he tried to increase public awareness of the importance of rebuilding New Orleans. Marsalis also urged people to visit Louisiana as soon as possible.

Marsalis was one of the participants to Movie Director Spike Lee's documentary When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts.

In the New Orleans mayoral campaign of 2006, Wynton Marsalis endorsed Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, over Mayor Ray Nagin, another Democrat. Nagin got re-elected, on the second ballot (runoff).

Marsalis is an Eagle Scout and his brother Branford is a Life Scout. Wynton Marsalis has been awarded the 2005 National Medal of Arts of the United States, the Grand Prix du Disque of the Charles Cros Academy and the Edison Award of the Netherlands, and was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in Britain. He has received honorary doctorate degrees from Amherst College and Rutgers University in May 1997, in addition to various recognitions by Brandeis University, Brown University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, the Manhattan School of Music, Princeton University, the University of Miami and Yale University.

Marsalis has toured 30 countries on six continents, and nearly five million copies of his recordings have been sold worldwide. As of 2006, according to an article by Stephen Thanabalan for JazzImprov magazine, United Artists is considering releasing a feature film biopic on Marsalis, with Will Smith widely purported to be in consideration for the role.

1982: Fathers and Sons Columbia Records # FC 37972.

1983: Haydn, L. Mozart, Hummel: Trumpet Concertos

1984: Purcell, Handel, Torelli, more: Trumpet Concertos - Haydn: Three Favorite Concertos — Cello, Violin & Trumpet Concertos

1985: J Mood - Black Codes (From the Underground)

1986: Tomasi, Jolivet: Trumpet Concertos; more

1987: Marsalis Standard Time - Volume I - Carnaval

1988: Best of Wynton Marsalis - The Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live At Blues Alley - Portrait of Wynton Marsalis - Baroque Music for Trumpets


1990: Tune In Tomorrow... The Original Soundtrack - Standard Time Vol. 3: The Resolution Of Romance

1991: Levee Low Moan Soul Gestures In Southern Blue Vol. 3 - Uptown Ruler Soul Gestures In Southern Blue Vol. 2 - Thick In The South - Soul Gestures In Southern Blue Vol. 1 - Standard Time Vol. 2: Intimacy Calling

1992: Concert for Planet Earth - Blue Interlude - BAROQUE DUET - A film by Susan Froemke * Peter Gelb * Albert Maysles * Pat Jaffe

1992: Baroque Duet - with Kathleen Battle

1993: On the Twentieth Century…: Hindemith, Poulenc, Bernstein, Ravel

1994: In This House, On This Morning - Greatest Hits: Handel

1995: Why Toes Tap: Marsalis on Rhythm - Listening for Clues: Marsalis on Form - Tackling the Monster: Marsalis on Practice (VHS) - Sousa to Satchmo: Marsalis on the Jazz Band - Greatest Hits: Baroque - Joe Cool's Blues (with Ellis Marsalis)

1996: In Gabriel's Garden

1997: Liberty! - Jump Start and Jazz - Blood On The Fields

1998: Classic Wynton - The Midnight Blues Standard Time Vol. 5

1999: Reeltime - Mr. Jelly Lord - Standard Time Vol. 6 - Listen to the Storyteller - Sweet Release and Ghost Story: Two More Ballets by Wynton Marsalis - At the Octoroon Balls - String Quartet No. 1; A Fiddler's Tale Suite - Franz Joseph Haydn - Los Elefantes (with Arturo Sandoval) - Big Train|The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra - Marsalis Plays Monk - Standard Time Vol. 4 -

2000: The London Concert - The Marciac Suite

2001: Classical Hits - Popular Songs: The Best Of Wynton Marsalis

2002: All Rise - Trumpet Concertos - Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait

2003: Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio: In Full Swing

2004: The Magic Hour - Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

2005: Live at the House of Tribes

The Music of Black Americans: A History. Eileen Southern. W. W. Norton & Company; 3rd edition. ISBN 0-393-97141-4
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