The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra became an official department of the Lincoln Center in 1991, formed with surviving members of Duke Ellington’s orchestra, according to Dan Israel, manager of touring and programming. Now they are kicking off a week at Chautauqua Institution titled “America’s Music with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”
At 5 p.m. August 22 the 15-member ensemble will fill Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall with jazz music for the final concert of the Logan Chamber Music Series.
Wynton Marsalis, the music director of the ensemble, will temporarily pass the baton to trombonist Vincent Gardner for today’s performance. Gardner has served as an instructor at The Juilliard School, visiting instructor at Florida State University and Michigan State University and an adjunct instructor at The New School. He has performed with names such as Bobby McFerrin, Harry Connick, Jr. and the Saturday Night Live Band.
Israel said the importance of this week’s theme can be found in the importance of jazz music to American culture.
“Jazz is one of America’s true art forms,” Israel said. “I think one of the missions of JALC is to advocate and expand, perform and educate our music. I think a lot of people don’t know what jazz is or at least what we consider jazz to be.”
Israel said that if describing the band to his friends, he would describe them as “an incredibly talented group of musicians and composers, arrangers and educators.”
The concert will feature both selections for all 15 of the JLCO members and smaller groups. While the ensemble will have a pre-planned program for this event, most concerts are run very differently, according to Israel.
He said when the band goes on tour, the members each have copies of 50 to 75 different songs. These songs have been performed in New York City, where the band resides, and deemed to have been well received and added to the group’s repertoire.
Approximately 45 minutes to an hour before each show on tour, Marsalis decides which pieces will be performed in that show, Israel said.
“This allows the JLCO to have a diverse repertoire to select from depending on the scene and the mood,” Israel said.
While the JLCO has never performed at Chautauqua Institution before, this week’s partnership has been in discussion since last summer when Marsalis visited Chautauqua Institution to preview his violin concerto with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.
“Marsalis feels a strong sense of comfort and safety just working with that orchestra and being in that kind of supportive environment,” Israel said.
Israel said the JLCO participates in a lot of educational opportunities and activities, which aligns well with the mission of Chautauqua. To take advantage of these teaching opportunities, members of the orchestra will teach master classes on topics including the blues, the rise of the American orchestra and gospel music.
“We want our band members to be able to interact with all the people attending Chautauqua and talk to them about different aspects of jazz,” Israel said.
Israel said he believes the week will provide Chautauquans with a lot of information about jazz music and the musicians that keep it alive in a way that will be easy to respond to.
“It’s just a really beautiful thing how jazz musicians communicate and share, especially compared to other musicians,” Israel said. “I think the music and the musicians have a way that makes things really relatable and personable. It makes you want to like them and it makes you want to like their music.”