Opening night of the 35th artistic season at Jazz at Lincoln Center
They have toured in over 300 cities across six continents. While traveling with their music, they have always been open to sensitive aspects of other cultures they would witness. They used it to learn and further thrive musicality even more, bringing to other audiences enhanced, glorious sounds. Wynton Marsalis and his Orchestra, on October 1, 2022, kicked off the 35th artistic season at Jazz at Lincoln Center, at their home, inviting us cordially to listen to “The Shanghai Suite”.
I was very excited about having the opportunity to be a part of this celebratory evening. I was gifted a ticket which I always believe is well-deserved for such as avid jazz fan as I am. However, I remain humble because jazz will always teach me something new, it will never cease to surprise me. This time I found out that “The Shanghai Suite” had its world premiere in 2019 when the Shanghai branch of Jazz at Lincoln Center was opening. Now, we were about to witness the US premiere of it.
The Frederick P. Rose Hall was fully packed, and my balcony seat allowed me a clear view of a stage. After a brief introduction the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra showed up on stage with its director, Wynton Marsalis. The evening started with a short introduction and then they performed “Swinging on the Bund”. I immediately felt I was transported to a world of Chinese tales where time slows down, owing it to the music’s composition:
“[In Chinese music] the space is not cluttered with conversation. The sense of balance is different (…)”
I could feel it: “Swinging on the Bund” was both jazzy and contained a certain grace and elegance coming from the Asian sense of swing.
Then, they moved on to the “Monkey King March” theme. The story was about the Monkey King who left the Monkey Kingdom to wander in a human realm in search of the key to immortality. Here, I realized how well Wynton Marsalis has carried the jazz flag for the institution of JALC. Not only does he feel some sort of an artistic responsibility towards an individual to make then always hear the best notes, but also illustrates what he plays with witty introductions, hypnotizing the audience! Telling the story was like an interlude brought by words.
Next, we heard authentic monkey feet sound-like march. It was a funny, dynamic composition beginning with a heavy contrabass solo, to continue with a tambourine and trumpets with smothers… Slow but steady monkey feet progressing into the
world. Funny! Then the clarinet softens everything merging with a lyrical trumpet. A beautiful sound blossoms. Afterward, we hear the bridge based on drums and trumpets. Full spectrum of sounds brought to you straight from the cartoons about marching animals. Excellent for a movie soundtrack, surely putting you in a great mood if you were not yet in one.
One of my favorite compositions on that evening was the “Yulan Magnolia – Soul of the South”. Marsalis starts with another story:
“It’s interesting that the flower of Shanghai is actually older than the bees (…)”
Then he mentions that the same magnolia flower is also a state symbol of Louisiana (Marsalis’ home state). The same flower was placed behind Billie Holiday’s ear. Ah! An Accident? Hm, a beautiful one, for music’s history.
The audience flows into this composition carried by the calm sounds of clarinets and a
tambourine transforming into added drum brushes and a flute with a lovely contrabass background. Beautiful, a very lyrical Asian-style tune!
“You may not be able to dance but you definitely can eat” Marsalis brought us to a burst of laughter before playing next the “Hot Pot!” composition. This would be a sin indeed if fame of this great Chinese cuisine were not put in the noble notes of jazz. Before the music played, we heard: “Whoever tells you we are having hot pot; you show up with your bib”. Hot pot also has a very symbolic meaning: it is a dish that brings all the people together to the table. In real time, it brought the orchestra members together on stage. Every musician was equally important as every culinary ingredient, giving the event the best flavors enchanted by the music. Like vegetables added to an excellent broth.
Speaking of tasting, JLC treated its guests with glasses of champagne during the entr’acte which added to the wonderful festive experience.
After a refreshing break we could listen to such compositions as:
“Li Bai’s Blues”
“The Five Elements” with an excellent clarinet solo of a young male artist from China.
“Casanova/Peace Hotel/Right Here Tonight”
“The Shanghai Skyline”
We could witness the real Artists in their realm for the 35th time. Amazing evening!
In the present status quo of the world, Marsalis has a special call for all of us:
“This is a precarious and divisive time, and humanity desperately needs the wisdom that jazz was born to deliver: come together, be together, stay together. Easier said than done, but no endeavor is more important at this moment.”
Let’s practice his call here: https://2022.jazz.org/22-23-season
Special acknowledgements to:
Greg Scholl, Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Ted Panken.