Wynton Marsalis: New Star Power in Saratoga on August 15th


Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra – Thursday, August 15th

Now here’s something to get really excited for! Jazz at Lincoln Center was formed by Wynton Marsalis, arguably the best jazz trumpet player and composer alive today. Having Marsalis’s own jazz orchestra in Saratoga is enough to be a stand-alone concert. Marsalis is known for his ability to write across genres, and at the age of 22 became the only musician to win a Grammy in both jazz and classical in the same year. And his award list has only grown from there.

The performance opens with Jazz at Lincoln Center alone playing the music of Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington’s classic sounds fit Marsalis’s group well, who focus on jazz written in the mid to late 20th century. I’m no jazz expert, but like many Lincoln Center organizations, Jazz at Lincoln Center has been criticized for their conservative musical opinions fueled by Marsalis himself. That being said, they are arguably the best at what they do choose to do. There is a richness of sound created by the band, and their ability to communicate as an orchestra is unquestionable. The choice to play a well-known jazz program will likely play to SPAC’s advantage, as jazz has been slow to grow in Saratoga. This is an incredible opportunity to see this band live at SPAC is beyond exciting, and conductor William Eddins is absolutely phenomenal. Criticism of Jazz at Lincoln Center aside, this concert promises to be exciting and engaging, and this is just talking about the first half.

Following intermission, the Philadelphia will play Marsalis’s Swing Symphony (another SPAC premiere!) This follows the trend of other SPAC premieres this season of highlighting marginalized composers, and it’s exciting to see such diversity in SPAC’s season. Swing Symphony is exciting, gorgeous, and all-around fun. If you like Bernstein, you’re going to like this piece. It opens in full Bernstein-ian style, with full orchestra and lush strings. The string texture remains consistent throughout the piece, which relies heavily on solos, tying back to Marsalis’s jazz roots. It will be exciting to hear our favorite classical musicians flex their jazz abilities with the style of Swing Symphony following the evolution of swing. Included are moments of Dixieland, big band, Lindy Hop, and modern swing.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Even if you’re not a jazz lover, the heavy symphonic use throughout this piece classifies it more as jazzy-classical in my opinion. And if you’re not a regular orchestra lover, this may be the best concert of the season to dip your toe into the Philadelphia and see if you enjoy the experience.

Guests should be warned, there will be several saxophones on stage throughout the evening’s performance.

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