Marsalis Swings by Saratoga

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Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra screamed through Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center on Thursday, August 15th, and left a mostly full amphitheatre on their feet, cheering for more.

Opening with an hour of music from Duke Ellington, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra brought multiple instruments on stage with them as they breezed through decades of Ellington’s work. The prolific Ellington wrote and performed music for over 50 years, expanding through America’s 1930s through the tumultuous Civil Rights movement. Starting with some of Ellington’s music from the famed Cotton Club, the jazz orchestra demonstrated exceptional control over the brass section, gently balanced with the dynamic and often overlooked clarinets.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Ellington’s reliance on trumpet, trombone and clarinet shone as soloist after soloist whaled through some of the more difficult licks. Each musician doubled or tripled on different instruments, reflecting flexibility and professionalism.

The jazz orchestra’s performance of Ellington’s later music, especially the 1963 Far East Suites, shone the spotlight on their young pianist. The span of 40 years between pieces really made the changes in jazz music stand out, juxtaposing more classical jazz of screaming trumpets and wild clarinet licks with more thoughtful dissonance and improv in the later pieces.

Ending with “A Portrait of Louis Armstrong,” the group then took a brief intermission before joining with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The second half of the concert was the first performance by the Philadelphia of Marsalis’ own composition “Swing Symphony.”

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Marsalis is a respected and loved trumpet player, so it was notable that he did not take the solos in his own composition, but sat back and glowed as he listed to the musicians around him make his piece come to life. The seven movement piece swept through American jazz styles, from Gershwin sounds to Dixie melodies. Uniquely using percussion to represent our country’s city streets, Marsalis’ composition took the audience on a sweeping trip through the Americas and beyond.

The concert was a delight, a unique taste of jazz in the last few days of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s final days at SPAC. Patrons filled the seats, and the lawn was filled despite the rain.

Here’s hoping Marsalis swings by again sometime soon.

Photo Gallery by Jim Gilbert

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